In their Saturday New York Times op-ed “Can Democrats Still Win?” TDS Co-Editor Stanley B. Greenberg and James Carville, Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, take on the common political wisdom that says a Republican takeover of congress is a done deal.
The authors, both founders of Democracy Corps, begin with a discussion of the 1998 midterm elections, noting predictions that the Dems were doomed in that election, including Speaker Gingrich’s boast that GOP gains could exceed the landslide of 1994. Greenberg and Carville note that their early polling that year affirmed a bad outcome for Dems, but once the impeachment battle got underway, their subsequent polling indicated that voters were indeed ready to move-on, to end impeachment and have congress focus on more substantive issues that affected the daily lives of Americans..
Enough Democratic candidates got the message and began to focus their campaigns on the findings of the Greenberg/Carville polling, while Republicans doubled down on the scandal-mongering in their ads. The result, as the authors write:
Democrats surprised everyone: no net losses in the Senate and a net gain of five seats in the House — the best showing for the incumbent president’s party in a midterm election since 1934. Newt Gingrich resigned.
Greenberg and Carville concede that it’s a very tough environment for Dems:
With the 2010 midterm elections just over a week away, Democrats find themselves in a similarly perilous situation. There are fears that Democrats could lose as many as 50 House seats; the Senate could go either way. A survey last week by our polling group, Democracy Corps, had Democrats down five points in the House ballot. Add to this early voting, heavy campaign spending by outside corporate groups, high unemployment and the general feeling that the country is on the wrong track, and it is hard to imagine that Nov. 2 will be a good day for Democrats.
But even in this context there are a couple of factors Dems can leverage:
…In our latest national poll, we found that the Republican Party and the Republicans in Congress are as unpopular as the Democrats — unusual for a party riding a wave of support. With Republican candidates like Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul and Carl Paladino dominating the spotlight, Republicans find themselves no more appealing to voters now than they were in 2008.
In addition, there are signs that voters are still open to hearing from Democrats. An NPR poll that surveys likely voters in key House districts found this month that a Democratic message focused on the middle class and American jobs won out over a Republican message of deficit reduction and wasteful spending. (Disclosure: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner helped conduct this survey.) True, voters are not particularly moved by Democratic messages about Republican extremism or the policies that produced the recession. But they are open to hearing about how to repair the economy and put Americans back to work. This is surprising, because voters normally tune out the party they want to punish at the polls.
Greenberg and Carville conclude that “…based on our experiences leading up to the last supposed Democratic debacle, candidates may have more control over their destinies than they think.” Coming from the team that advised the only Democrat since FDR to win two consecutive Presidential elections — as well as advocated the strategy that helped Dems hold the line in ’98 midterms — their advice merits serious consideration from Democratic candidates and campaigns.