In November, House Democrats had not yet absorbed the wipeout of the Virginia and New Jersey elections. They hadn’t witnessed four prominent House members choose to retire rather than face defeat, or two powerful incumbent senators follow suit. They hadn’t seen Alabama Democrat Parker Griffith sprint to the Republican side. They weren’t holding 40 of the 50 most competitive House seats.

They hadn’t caught a new poll that is all the congressional gossip right now, showing that North Carolina freshman Democrat Larry Kissell remains relatively popular in his conservative district and easily leads potential Republican opponents. Mr. Kissell was a no vote on health care. What makes the poll particularly relevant is data that shows that among the 44% of voters who incorrectly believe Mr. Kissell voted for the bill, the matchups are tied. Among the 29% who correctly understand he voted against the legislation, Mr. Kissell wins huge.

Finally, House Dems hadn’t been presented with the mind-blowing sight of a Republican Senate contender running openly against health-care reform—in a state that went 26 points for Mr. Obama—and getting somewhere. “There are a lot of [Democrats] asking the question: There’s a need for health-care reform, but our constituents just don’t want this, and who are we to say they are wrong?” said one Democratic staffer for a member from a more conservative House district.