Panic at the Democratic Disco?

posted at 2:20 pm on January 6, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

We’re six days into 2010, and already we have four significant Democratic retirements.  Senators Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan, Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado, and Michigan’s Lt. Governor John Cherry have all decided to end their election bids for this year; Cherry was the frontrunner for Governor in his state.  Politico’s Manu Raju and Josh Kraushaar wonder whether this may be a trend:

Four top Democrats—including veteran Sens. Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan—all prepared to pull the plug on their campaigns in a 24-hour period that began Tuesday, and in the process, offered an unnerving glimpse at the perilous election year ahead.

With Dorgan’s stunning retirement announcement Tuesday evening, Democrats are now facing their bleakest election outlook in years—and the very real possibility the party will lose its 60-40 Senate supermajority after the November elections. On the House side, the prospect of heavy 20-30 seat losses is already looking increasingly likely. …

Yet the retirements of two senior Democratic senators, and the suddenly altered landscapes in Michigan and Colorado, continue a wave of Democratic bail outs that began with a burst of retirements by veteran House Democrats representing competitive districts, followed by the stunning late December party switch by freshman Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith.

In the meantime, President Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s poll ratings have slipped across the board, generic polling is now generally more favorable to Republicans and a handful of promising Democratic House candidates have abruptly ended their campaigns.

Suddenly, the sad sack GOP is looking at its best shot in three election cycles of making serious gains in November.

First, I don’t know of anyone who has seriously thought that Democrats would hold a 60-seat Senate majority for longer than one session of Congress.  While the numbers don’t favor a Republican return to power in the upper chamber, the party controlling the White House almost always loses seats in midterm elections.  Democrats would have done well to limit the damage to a couple of seats, but they’ve lost that many through retirement already.  Republicans have a shot at picking up perhaps four or five seats, which would significantly change the dynamic in Congress.

But Republicans may do better than that, and certainly will in the House.  The latest Rasmussen polling on the generic Congressional ballot shows them with their largest lead in years:

Republican candidates start the year by opening a nine-point lead over Democrats, the GOP’s biggest in several years, in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.

The new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 44% would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate while 35% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent.

In the past, Republicans have picked up seats even while slightly trailing on this polling question.  A nine-point GOP lead translates to a very bad November for Democrats.

What do these retirements mean, though?  Some will argue that it shows that Barack Obama has no coattails, but that’s not entirely accurate or applicable.  Coattails come into play when a President is actually on the ballot.  If Democrats had Obama on the ticket, they might be more likely to fight an election campaign and hope that Obama can get the kind of turnout he did in 2008.  The problem is that the Democratic agenda has motivated its opponents, and Democratic performance in leadership has demotivated its base and alienated the independents who put them in power.

Don’t expect these to be the last retirements we see, either, or Parker Griffith to be the only aisle-jumper.  However, the window of opportunity for both will rapidly close, as primary schedules dictate both actions.  For Democrats who want to retire, they have to leave enough time for a replacement candidate to gain the nomination.  For aisle-jumpers, the timing is even more fraught: they have to switch parties in time to either discourage Republicans from mounting primary campaigns or to beat them at it.  If Democrats are still retiring or switching parties in March, they will be in deep trouble.

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HI WASHJEFF–2:32 PM. You have a good idea on the State of the Union. However, I have some suggested improvements.
As soon as Comrade Obama (PBUH) stands up to speak–have all Republicans turn away from him and do a BRAVEHEART movie “drop trousers” or “hike kilts or skirts” salute to the Messiah. And then walk out en masse.
To “keep it clean” and classy–provide all of them with yellow shorts with big red polka-dots–the democRATs favorite colors. And loud Bronx Cheers on their way out of the hall. No more Mr. Nice Guy stuff–let them know how we really feel.
John Bibb

rocketman on January 6, 2010 at 4:43 PM

Replacement Democrats will be elected in all cases, and I will bet the farm on that.

The farm is already in hock; your party bet it on Obama. And the repo guys will be there in November.

Dirty Creature on January 6, 2010 at 4:45 PM

Coattails come into play when a President is actually on the ballot.

Also when the President tells a given a candidate that I can come out to your state and campaign for you. If the candidates routinely turn down the “favor”, then you know the coattails are short indeed.

I R A Darth Aggie on January 6, 2010 at 4:49 PM

Also learn to sign ‘You lie’ and various other bits. Silent forms of protest can be as damaging as overt forms of protest.

Holger on January 6, 2010 at 2:55 PM

He does so poorly without the teleprompter, can you imagine Obambi with that much distraction??

AubieJon on January 6, 2010 at 4:51 PM

This is a lot of fun.

Time to make some popcorn and sit back in the Lazy Boy.

I say there will be plenty more ship-jumpers.

Pelosi is a lame duck even if the Dems just lose 25 – 30 seats.

The remaining Dems wouldn’t re-elect her as Speaker.

molonlabe28 on January 6, 2010 at 4:57 PM

Don’t let the fact that republican retirements outnumber Democratic retirements in the House, in the Senate, and among governors spoil your insightful political analysis. :)

benny shakar on January 6, 2010 at 5:06 PM

I didn\’t say \”we\’re gonna be better than them\” should be the ONLY theme for \’10–just that it should definitely be part of the arsenal, esp. in these races with new Dem blood vying to fill a retiring Dem\’s seat. As uninspiring as it sounds, \”we suck less\” WILL work now that everyone has actually seen what this triad of Dem leadership has in mind for them. Didn\’t work for McCain because the electorate still thought the GOP was in charge, so he couldn\’t run with an \”us against them\” angle. I think the GOP would be foolish to leave that theme out of the lineup now, though. Again, not the whole argument, but definitely part of the toolbox.

johnny alpha on January 6, 2010 at 8:22 PM

Don’t let the fact that republican retirements outnumber Democratic retirements in the House, in the Senate, and among governors spoil your insightful political analysis. :)

benny shakar on January 6, 2010 at 5:06 PM

You do have a point. But the politics are leaning toward replacement of those Republicans with other Republicans at the present.

unclesmrgol on January 6, 2010 at 9:22 PM

But the Dems told me that Rasmussen Lies!

KS Rex on January 6, 2010 at 9:40 PM

“None of the affected states represent any problems for Democrats at all. Replacement Democrats will be elected in all cases, and I will bet the farm on that.
jay12 on January 6, 2010 at 4:22 PM”
You may be onto something there, but not because Republicans are “hated”, as you put it. The Dem quitters like Dodd are tainted by Pelosi/Reid and fresh new Dems will run on “vote for me, I’m different, new, and, above all, Ethical!”

KS Rex on January 6, 2010 at 9:46 PM