Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, who was an adviser to the Clinton White House in 1994, when Democrats lost their House and Senate majorities, Wednesday predicted Republicans will make "significant gains" but says a 1994-style congressional takeover is unlikely this year. Here are some of the reasons he gave at a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor:
- Democrats received an early warning of voter restiveness with the election of Sen. Scott Brown last month in Massachusetts. That has focused their minds and they won't be complacent going into November.
- Republican opposition to Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1994 drove up the GOP's numbers and improved the public's perception of the party. That's not true now, Greenberg said. GOP numbers collapsed in 2008 to a historic low in his polls and "they've not moved up one point in 15 months. The Republican Party is a cult. It is defined by Sarah Palin, defined by Fox News and its commentators."
- Clinton refused to criticize Republicans for wanting to return to Reagan policies. President Obama and Democrats aren't showing the same reluctance to blame George W. Bush and GOP economic policies for the recession. Obama is "effectively talking about Bush and responsibility for the lost decade."
- The climate for Democrats in 1993-94 was not just bad, it was "disastrous." There were the Whitewater
investigations, and divisive debates about gays in the military and even a major crime bill. The crime bill failed because of Democratic infighting over the death penalty and an assault weapons ban. The defeat is "unimaginable" in retrospect. "Everybody's numbers crashed."
- The Clinton-era health reform debate raged until Sept. 26, 1994, when it was pulled from the Senate floor. "No announcement, no explanation from the president, just silence going into the election." The timing of the current debate is a blessing because it largely took place last year. Furthermore, the result may well be different: "It can't be dead. It shouldn't be dead and, I'm presuming, won't be dead."
- At this time in 1994, Clinton was at 58 percent job approval "and we were quite satisfied with ourselves." By fall, after health reform died, Clinton was at 39 percent. Obama has been stable at 48 percent since November, during the worst of the recession. If the economy continues to stabilize, that could rise by fall.
Update: Greenberg wrote a piece on this subject for The New Republic and it has just been posted here