Check out the political ad below if you want to see what the fall congressional campaign will look like -- that is, how the Democrats would prefer the election to look.
This is the Democratic National Committee's latest spot. It's no secret that the Dems are in a corner. For decades, the first midterm election in a presidency has almost always produced a clobbering of the president's party in Congress. That's without unemployment near 10 percent -- and two unfinished wars, an eco-disaster, and a sharp drop in public confidence in practically every established institution of society. Veteran political handicappers in Washington -- analysts who pore over the details of scores of House races -- say that the Democrats, by conventional numbers, are in danger of losing about 30 seats. But unconventional conditions -- and this is a year of unconventional conditions -- could boost that number to closer to (or above) the 39 seats the GOP needs to win the House.
It doesn't seem that the public is yearning for Republicans to return to power. (One recent poll showed George W. Bush as unpopular as ever.) But many voters probably do want to oust incumbents, and there are more Democratic incumbents than GOP officeholders. The math is simple. So what are the Dems to do?
They have to engage in a two-step process. First, persuade voters that the congressional elections are not merely about booting out politicians; they are a choice between two sides. Second, the Democrats must convince voters that the other side is truly awful -- and in league with the folks you really hate (or should hate): oil companies like BP, the Wall Street scoundrels who drove the economy off the cliff and health insurance companies that care more about profits than people.
Actually, there's a third step. In each of the individual House and Senate races, the Democrats then must tie the GOP candidate -- who may come across as a fine guy or gal -- to the excesses (or what some might consider the fundamentals) of the Republican Party. After all, few GOPers will be campaigning as handmaidens of BP and other corporate evildoers. They'll be claiming they're reformers who want to bring change to a Washington that isn't too popular these days.
A triple bank shot? That may be. It may also be the Democrats' only decent play. Rep. Joe Barton made their task a tad bit easier. But as the above ad indicates, there's other ammo. And I'd bet that the GOPers provide even more in the weeks and months ahead. (They just can't shut up.)
Still, this case is a tough sell that will require the Democrats to grab the attention of voters who don't always pay a lot of notice to politics then walk them through all these steps. No doubt, a strong and inspiring president could help in this process. But political scientists can start plotting out their studies now. The Rs will have a simple message: Attack Washington. The Ds will have a multi-tiered one: Think about the choice and the stakes. It will take plenty of ads like this one for the Dems to have a chance.
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