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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Prognosticating Generation Gap

Via Chris Bowers at MyDD, I recently read a Charlie Cook column that said out loud something I have been puzzling about:

As a general rule, election-watchers under the age of 40, regardless of their party or ideology, see the contest for control of the House as fairly close. They foresee Republicans’ losing at least 10 seats, but certainly no more than 20, and they put the odds of a Democratic takeover at 50-50, give or take 10 percentage points. As for the Senate, these observers tend to expect Republicans to lose three or four seats, but probably not five and certainly not the six required for Democrats to take charge.Observers over age 40, meanwhile, tend to see a greater likelihood of sizable Republican losses. They think that the GOP could well lose more than 20 House seats and more than five Senate seats.

This generation gap has been especially notable if you read progressive prognosticators, such as Chris Bowers or Kos. These are people who by and large are completely obsessed with the hope that Democrats will retake Congress. This is largely what they live for. Yet they are very reluctant to predict that their Ahab will indeed slay their Great White Whale. At the same time, nonpartisan and Washington Establishment crystal ball analysts–the very people that progressive bloggers regard as thinly veiled allies of Bush and Rove–are typically suggesting that Bush and Rove’s party is about to get 1994’d. Cook gently suggests that Old Folks remember earlier elections that provide the relevant empircal data for what’s happening this year. Bowers responds by noting that young’uns are fixated on recent elections where the only real pattern was Democratic futility. As an Old Guy who pays a lot of attention to Young Folk commentary, I think both sides have a point. Cook and Rothenburg and all sorts of conventional handicappers are right to examine the historical evidence for what might happen when you have a deeply unpopular president whose party controls Congress, especially six years into a presidency. But Bowers and company have experienced two straight midterm elections that broke all the rules about the performance of the president’s party. Perhaps I’m showing my age here, but I tend to agree with Charlie and Stu and company that it’s hard to find any precedent for a presidential party controlling Congress in the sixth year of an administration that avoids disaster when the electorate is completely sour on the status quo. But we’re in an era when precedents are being broken every day, so who knows?For all the talk about 1986 and 1994 and 2002 as precursors of what might happen this November, I am increasingly reminded of 1980, when it comes to the allegedly slight possibility of Democrats retaking the Senate. That year, there were a large number of very close Senate races: NY, IA, IN, FL, AL, GA, NC, ID, WA, WI, as I recall. Republicans won every damn one of them, thanks to a last minute “wave.” The lay of the land in Senate races this year is strikingly similar. So mark me down as an Old Guy who understands how unpredictable elections have become, but who thinks Democrats are in position, if we don’t make mistakes, to do even better in actual races than our national standing might suggest.

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