Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Hype Could Leave Democrats Demoralized

This morning's New York Times suggests that the Democrats could be left deeply dejected if they fail to meet the high expectations set for them in today's elections:

In most midterm elections, an out-of-power party picking up, say, 14 seats in the House and five seats in the Senate could call it a pretty good night.

But for Democrats in 2006, that showing would mean coming up one seat shy of taking control of both the Senate and the House. And it would probably be branded a loss — in the case of the House, a big one.

For a combination of reasons — increasingly bullish prognostications by independent handicappers, galloping optimism by Democratic leaders and bloggers, and polls that promise a Democratic blowout — expectations for the party have soared into the stratosphere. Democrats are widely expected to take the House, and by a significant margin, and perhaps the Senate as well, while capturing a majority of governorships and legislatures.

These expectations may well be overheated. Polls over the weekend suggested that the contest was tightening, and some prognosticators on Monday were scaling back their predictions, if ever so slightly. (Charlie Cook, the analyst who is one of Washington’s chief setters of expectations, said in an e-mail message on Monday that he was dropping the words “possibly more” from his House prediction of “20-35, possibly more.”)

Some Democrats worry that those forecasts, accurate or not, may be setting the stage for a demoralizing election night, and one with lasting ramifications, sapping the party’s spirit and energy heading into the 2008 presidential election cycle.

“Two years ago, winning 14 seats in the House would have been a pipe dream,” said Matt Bennett, a founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic organization. Now, Mr. Bennett said, failure to win the House, even by one seat, would send Democrats diving under their beds (not to mention what it might do to all the pundits).

“It would be crushing,” he said. “It would be extremely difficult.”
Mr. Cook put it more succinctly. “I think you’d see a Jim Jones situation — it would be a mass suicide,” he said.

On election eve, the rough consensus among officials in both parties was that the Democrats would win the House but come just short of capturing the six seats they needed in the Senate. There was wide disagreement, though, about how many House seats Democrats might win.

Many of these predictions had been based on polls showing that President Bush, the Republican Party and Congress were extraordinarily unpopular. But going into Election Day, at least 20 House seats and probably 3 Senate seats were tied or close to it, no matter what the national polls say.

So, what if Democrats just squeak to victory in the House by a seat or two? What if Democrats win just three seats in the Senate or — unlikely but not impossible — even two?

“I’m not getting into the Washington expectations game,” said Representative Rahm Emanuel, the Democrat from Illinois running his party’s effort to capture the House, in what he said would be a very brief minute he would devote to commenting on this subject. “My job is to deliver north of 15 seats and that’s what I am going to do.”

Howard Wolfson, a Democratic consultant advising candidates in some of the most competitive races in upstate New York — and one of his party’s biggest optimists this year — said the size of the margin would not matter, assuming, of course, that Democrats win. “It’s not a question of 25 or 35,” Mr. Wolfson said. “It’s a question of 14 or 15. Would you rather have a bigger margin? Of course. But if you take back the House, the world changes.”

But any casual reader of a newspaper, or watcher of television news, or consumer of polls could be forgiven for thinking that the nation was about to witness its biggest shift in power since Republicans seized control of Congress by capturing 54 House seats in 1994. In the past week, analysts like Mr. Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, as well as on-the-record Democrats and Republicans, were talking about the Democrats’ racking up as many as 35 seats. (Republicans, of course, may have decided that they have a Machiavellian interest in setting up Democrats with inflated expectations.)

I blogged about Charlie Cook's election forecasts a couple of weeks ago (click here). Not only will the Democrats be demoralized, but election analysts who've made dramatic predictions of Democratic Party gains will by lying low for awhile, with some even apologizing for their errors. It's going to be an interesting night, whatever happens.

No comments: