by Nathan Empsall, Wed Feb 24, 2010 at 07:30:21 PM EST
It was a rather disturbing diary headline earlier this week: “Charlie Cook says Democrats will lose the House.” But it wasn't quite as disturbing once I read the actual article in question.
Is the progressive sky falling?
The full quote from Cook shows that he’s just blowing smoke and has no numbers to back up his claim.
I’ve spent the last couple of days talking to some of the brightest Democrats in the party that are not in the White House. And it’s very hard to come up with a scenario where Democrats don’t lose the House. It’s very hard. Are the seats there right this second? No. But we’re on a trajectory on the House turning over.
A trajectory? Hell, trajectories can change. Give me numbers, not opinions. Unemployment will still be high in November, but between the new jobs bills and the slow recovery, it shouldn’t be as high as it is now. Hopefully with Obama’s new spine, some form health care reform will have passed and voters will realize that Grandma is still alive.
The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato was one of the first to predict a bad year for Democrats, but is holding steady at bad year, not terrible year. Perhaps his colleagues, like Cook, are trying to make up for not being the first to play Chicken Little by escalating to Chicken Huge. Either way, here’s the take from Isaac Wood, House Race Editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball:
Some pundits are already predicting the GOP could even take back the House, which would require a net gain of 40 seats this November. To put that into perspective, in the past sixty years there have been thirty House elections, but only four have resulted in either party gaining 40 seats or more. In fact, over the past thirty-five years (and sixteen House elections), only once has either party picked up 40 seats or more. That year, of course, was 1994 when Republicans came to power following a net gain of 52 House seats.
While the Crystal Ball believes 2010 will reverse Democratic gains at all levels, there is still no convincing evidence that a GOP wave will deliver Republicans the majority in the House. Examining history and House races on a district-by-district basis shows instead that Republicans are headed to a more typical, if better than average, midterm year, picking up between 24 and 30 seats as the Crystal Ball has predicted since September. The average pick-up in a midterm year (since 1946) is 22 seats and Republicans should exceed that, but the magic number of 40 still seems out of reach, as of February.
The Senate picture is also looking up. We’ll lose seats, but poll trends are encouraging as Democratic candidates gain ground in several states. In New Hampshire, Republican Kelly Ayotte leads Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes 46-39, but Hodes is closing, having narrowed the gap from 49-40. In New York, Harold Ford has done wonders for Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, who has narrowed the gap against former Republican Governor George Pataki from 51-38 to 47-41. Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher is also cutting into former Rep. Rob Portman’s lead in Ohio. Nationally, if one disregards Rasmussen (which doesn’t use live pollsters), Democrats still maintain a narrow edge on the generic ballot. And let’s not forget, though he’s not above 50% in every poll, the party’s leader does have a net positive rating.
Am I cherry picking these numbers? With the exception of the president’s approval rating and the generic ballot, yes, of course. The overall electoral picture is bleak. But, just because the sky is dark doesn’t mean it’s falling. This is not the time for progressives and Democrats to panic. It is the time to demand that Congress get serious about financial reform, filibuster reform, clean energy, and health care, and it is the time to start identifying progressive candidates worth our time and donations. I’ve already given money to Matt Dunne in VT-Gov and Jack Conway in KY-Sen. Paul Hodes in NH-Sen is next, and possibly Russ Feingold in WI-Sen, given that Hodes and Feingold are two of the three Senate candidates so far endorsed by the Sierra Club (as well as dozens of House races). I’m thrilled to see the oft-maligned Michael Bennett leading the way on reconciliation, and have always been a fan of Kirstin Gillibrand, who is now taking the lead on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
With a bit of elbow grease and good messaging, we can limit our losses such that, with filibuster reform, we’ll still have the capability for good governance. We’ve already got some good candidates. So, the next time you feel panic, reroute that energy into something more productive.