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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Economic Meltdown Boosts Dems

Gerald F. Seib’s column in today’s Wall St. Journal addresses the effects of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapse and the deteriorating economy in general on the upcoming election, and he sees increased chances for a Democratic sweep. As Seib succinctly puts it,

Voters think the country is in a mess, and they are more inclined to trust Democrats to clean things up.

One reason says Seib, is that the traditional GOP panacea/meme, “Let the markets work things out” won’t play so well in the current climate:

…the Bush administration, resistant to intervene in markets, and reluctant to ride to the rescue of investors in the specific case of the housing mess, stepped up over the weekend to offer a virtual government guarantee that Fannie and Freddie would stay solvent.
It grows ever harder for Republicans to campaign against government intrusion in the marketplace the more Republicans themselves appear to be losing faith in letting markets work. And if voters want intervention in the economy, why not get the real deal with Democrats? In sum, it is hard to imagine new economic scares represent anything but more bad news for Republicans, who tend to get the blame for things that go wrong simply because they have controlled the White House for the past seven years.

And, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds even one-third of Republicans now disapprove of Bush’s job performance, includng 20 percent who “strongly disapporve” — and all-time high. In addition, 52 percent of Independents now “disapprove strongly” of his job performance. The poll also found that “a broad majority finds their finances to be a cause of stress in their life.”
All of which is making John McCain sweat more than a little. Seib explains,

…the mortgage crisis also has left Sen. McCain trapped between this instinct to act and his party’s inclination to let markets work out solutions. Maneuvering in that middle ground has left him uncomfortable at times, caught between a desire to help homeowners and distaste for bailing out investors and speculators who made bad bets.

Regardless of the presidential contest, Seib believes Democratic Senate candidates could be the major beneficiaries of the growing economic insecurity:

when the Journal/NBC News poll asked voters last month whether they preferred a Democratic or Republican controlled Congress to emerge from the election, voters responded by a whopping 52% to 33% margin that they wanted Democratic control…Increasingly, the question is how many innocent Republicans will be sucked under by these currents, and whether there is even a chance that there will be enough of them to give Democrats the magic 60 seats they need to create a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate….A fresh examination of the roster of Senate seats up for election this fall shows that Democrats have legitimate shots of taking over 10 seats now held by Republicans — and are in real danger of losing only one, that of Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Seib is not alone in that asessment. At a press breakfast held last Saturday, Nevada Sen. John Ensign , chairman of National Republican Senatorial Committee gave a list of the ten “most competitive” U.S. Senate seats up on November 4, and only one is currently held by a Democrat. Bob Benenson of CQ Politics lists the ten Senate seats most likely to flip to the opposing party as VA, NM, NH, CO, MS, NM, AK, OR, ME and LA — all but LA currently held by Republicans. The only difference in the two lists is that Ensign had NC instead of MS.

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