Did the Dog Days Bite Democrats?

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For congressional Democrats, the recess news cycle has been anything but good.


For congressional Democrats, the recess news cycle has been anything but good. First, protests dominated townhall coverage. Then President Obama's approval rating dropped, ostensibly because support for his healthcare reforms waned. And now a series of articles—such as this one by the Politico's Josh Kraushaar—have raised the specter of the Democrats losing many House seats in next year’s midterm elections, perhaps even their sizable majority. Things do not seem to be going well for House Democrats, but there are still entire campaigns to be waged before the 2010 midterms. So Politics asked Democratic and Republican consultants what Democrats can do to shift the narrative or what Republicans can do to solidify it. Most Democratic consultants said that the best way to prepare for 2010 is by getting results now. Healthcare reform has to be passed, said Daniel Gotoff of Lake Research Partners. "If nothing is passed it will be seen as a huge failure," he said. "This administration has come in and promised real change and has started out, at least from an optical standpoint, with large majorities. If they are unable to get things done it is hard to make an argument to keep them on board." Gotoff also said that the Democrats should "find an enemy" to shift the current story line, as they have, to some extent, with health insurers. Looking ahead to 2010, though, Gotoff said Democrats must do a better job on economic issues. "If Democrats don't take control of the economic narrative more," he said, "we could be in real trouble and looking at losses beyond what would be normal." Brian Smoot, a former political director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Democrats need to shift the message toward legislative successes in the run up to the election. "Democrats should focus on legislative victories both parochial and national," Smoot, who is now a partner at 4C Partners, said. "It is important they land some victories." Smoot also had some strategic advice for Democrats in competitive districts that was reminiscent of Gotoff's "find an enemy" advice: "They are really going to have to start considering using earned and paid media to define their opponents earlier than they have in the past." Many Republicans, on the other hand, say the damage has already been done and it is rooted in the White House. Jim McLaughlin of McLaughlin and Associates, a Republican polling firm, said he has seen independents turn against Obama. "Independents in focus groups don't agree with him," McLaughlin said. "The independents who were clearly favoring the Democrats in 2006 and 2008 are now favoring Republicans." McLaughlin went so far as to say that Obama campaigned as a "moderate Republican" and has since shifted his positions. "He said he'd end earmarks, he said he wouldn't raise taxes," he said. "But what has he done since being elected? Cap and trade, the stimulus package and a government healthcare proposal.” Other Republicans aren't quite so optimistic and are wary of making predictions about 2010 since the political atmosphere could change quickly. "Politics operates on a 24-hour news cycle, so there is plenty of time for the Democrats to turn this around," said Mike Belefski, president of the CPC Corporation, a Virginia Republican polling company. "But I don't see any change," he added. "I think it'll probably get worse for the Democrats.”Jeremy P. Jacobs is a Staff Writer for Politics Magazine. He can be reached at jjacobs@politicsmagazine.com  


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