Strategery and the shifting political winds

STRATEGERY AND THE SHIFTING POLITICAL WINDS…. As most observers have no doubt noticed, political winds can turn pretty quickly. I was doing some research the other day and found a piece noting that the National Republican Senatorial Committee, as recently as May, thought it was likely that Democrats would expand their Senate majority in 2010.

As recently as late July, House Dems were believed to be “sitting pretty” for the midterms.

…CQ reports that the 2010 outlook for Democrats actually looks pretty good and “the only three contests in which CQ Politics rates an advantage to the challenging party are all for seats now held by the Republicans and targeted by the Democrats.” […]

Meanwhile, the geography of the 2010 Senate races is also highly favorable to the Democrats. And given the contrast between ironclad discipline on the GOP side and the “anything goes” attitude on the Democratic side, it looks like for a while yet we may be in a California-style dynamic where Republicans can’t win elections but Democrats can’t actually pass a governing agenda.

Now, I’m not trying to pick on Matt for this post; that’s really what the landscape looked like at the time and it’s what CQ actually reported. My point is there’s an ebb and flow to political fortunes, not that predictions can look mistaken six months later.

Last summer, it seemed possible, if not likely, that the Democratic majority in the Senate would be larger in 2011. After all, between vulnerable incumbents and GOP retirements, seats in Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio, Missouri, and North Carolina looked like strong pick-up opportunities. How significantly have things changed? Nate Silver put together an item weighing the possibility that the Dems’ 59-seat majority may completely disappear by next year.

In the House, we’ve gone from a scenario in which a dominant Democratic House majority was practically a given after the midterms, to a landscape in which the list of vulnerable House Dem incumbents is almost limitless.

So, is there anything Dems can do to get the winds to blow back in the other direction? Some aspects of the campaign season are hard to predict — the strength of the economy will make a big difference, no matter what strategy the parties pursue.

That said, when it comes to Dems and their agenda, we talked earlier about David Plouffe’s advice to the party, with suggestions that struck me as sound: “pass a meaningful health insurance reform package without delay”; create jobs; stand by the stimulus; emphasize reform issues; run great campaigns; and avoid “bed-wetting.”

That’s a positive, affirming approach. I’m wondering, though, about some of the possible attacks on Republicans.

The GOP isn’t in power right now, but the party still has vulnerabilities to exploit.

* Those guys really screwed up the last time.

Republican rule during the Bush/Cheney was a fiasco unlike anything America has seen in a very long time. The party, however, hasn’t changed at all — it’s deliberately fought any efforts to improve — so to reward the GOP in 2010 would be to endorse the same failures. I still don’t know why Democrats never chose to label this the “Republican Recession.”

* Why turn back the clock?

Nearly every crisis and policy challenge facing the United States right now — the recession, two wars, a disastrous job market, a massive federal budget deficit, and crushing debt, a health care system in shambles, a climate crisis, an ineffective energy policy, an equally ineffective immigration policy, a housing crisis, the collapse of the U.S. auto industry, a mess at Gitmo, a severely tarnished global reputation, etc. — is the result of Republican mismanagement, neglect, corruption, or some combination thereof.

The Dem line seems fairly obvious: if the country needs to put out fires, why vote for a team of arsonists?

* “Party of No”

As a rule, voters tend to like candidates/officials who at least pretend to be interested in problem-solving. “Whatever Dems are for, we’re against” shouldn’t resonate. Most of the American mainstream seems unimpressed by a party that reflexively rejects every idea, regardless of merit, while offering nothing substantive of its own.

* Worst. Ideas. Ever.

Republicans haven’t been in power, but they occasionally have presented some genuinely ridiculous ideas over the last year. Resolving the financial crisis with a spending freeze? Voting for an alternative budget that would privatize Medicare out of existence? Pretending global warming isn’t real? And remember the truly laughable GOP “health care plan”? C’mon. It’s no wonder the RNC’s own chairman questioned whether Republicans are ready to be in the majority again.

* “Party of Crazy”

Republicans have spent a year trying to drive away moderates, and taking orders from a drug-addled radio talk-show blowhard. Instead of moderating its message and direction in the wake of humiliating failures in 2006 and 2008, today’s GOP moved even further to the right — becoming the home to Tea Partiers, Birthers, Deathers, Oathers, and “Freedom Fighters.”

As far as 2010 is concerned, it would seem Republicans have positioned themselves just outside the political mainstream. (As Charles Barkley said in 2006, “I was a Republican until they lost their minds.” It’s the kind of sentiment Democratic officials may be tempted to broadcast more.)

Any other possible campaign narratives come to mind?