The Potential Anti-Obama Vote in November

This is a fascinating analysis by Daniel Larison, comparing a poll in 2006 that showed a fierce, anti-Bush feeling among voters, and a similar poll taken earlier this week that showed a sizable, but less widespread anti-Obama feeling.

The NBC/WSJ poll that came out earlier this week has some interesting results. The midterms are just over nine months away, so it seemed worth checking the questions related to the elections. The generic ballot shows a Democratic edge of 2 points, 44-42, but we should bear in mind that the RCP average for the generic ballot continues to show the GOP ahead by 3. More interesting, only 27% of respondents said that they would be casting their votes to send a signal of opposition to Obama. 37% said they will be signalling support for him, and 38% said they will not be sending any signal about Obama. That does not exactly fit the picture of a public recoiling in horror from Obama.

Contrast this with a comparable question about Bush in ‘06. Throughout 2006, anti-Bush voters had the edge over pro-Bush voters by 15-18 points. Prior to the 2002 and 1998 midterms, when the presidential party gained seats in the House, pro-Bush and pro-Clinton voters edged out the opposition voters by 12 points in ‘02 and 5 points in ‘98. What distinguishes the ‘02 and ‘98 results from ‘06 and this year is that in the earlier elections there were far more neutral voters for whom the President was not a direct factor. Nonetheless, as the ‘02 and ‘98 results suggest, when there are more pro-presidential voters than anti-presidential voters the presidential party tends to have better-than-average midterm elections. Interestingly, Obama’s numbers here are almost a reverse of Bush’s ‘06 numbers: where 37% wanted to show opposition to Bush and just 22% wanted to express support, 37% want to show support for Obama and 27% want to express opposition. While this is just one result, it wouldn’t seem to herald the collapse of Democratic majorities caused by massive anti-Obama sentiment sweeping the land.

Larison points out that this doesn’t mean the Democrats won’t lose lots of seats. But it does suggest that the wellspring of support for Obama probably means a flip of the House and Senate are out of the question.

Now that the euphoria surrounding Scot Brown’s senate upset win is dying down, time for a little realism to be injected into our discussions of mid-terms. There is little doubt that the prospect for huge gains by Republicans is still on the table – Obama or no Obama. With an approval rating in the low 20′s, the Democratic Congress can lose dozens of seats all on their own, thank you. Their base is discouraged, while the enthusiasm among Republicans nationwide is huge by contrast.

The GOP is emulating the Democratic success in 2006-08 by recruiting high quality, known commodities in competitive districts. Many of these candidates are self-funding, which is a definite plus in any race:

Republicans have suggested they already have about 80 quality candidates, and they continue to expand their scope. They said they plan to have a candidate in all 435 races, including in Illinois, where the filing period has passed and the party will have to maneuver to fill out the ballot.

Sessions wasn’t the only one talking but about recruiting.

Chairman of the moderate House Republican Tuesday Group caucus, Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.), told The Hill that candidates are going to “come out of the woodwork, across America, even in the Northeast and New England.”

“It’s a clarion call to everyone in Washington that the electorate is dissatisfied with this alarming agenda coming out of Washington,” Dent said.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), vice-chairman of the NRCC, went one step further: “Recruitment has not only gone well up until this point, but I think it will go on steroids, henceforth.”

Of course, it helps when it is perceived to be a GOP year. Some of these same folks who have thrown their hat in the ring, politely declined in 2008 when confronted with the prospect of a Democratic sweep.

And there are at least 20 former GOP members of Congress who lost their seats to Democrats who are trying to make a comeback:

The heavy dose of the past for Republicans was capped in recent days with the announced candidacies of former Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.), Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.).

The four of them give the Republicans’ 2010 recall effort a notable 2006 flavor.

All four lost their seats in 2006, and they join former Reps. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), John Hostettler (R-Ind.) and Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) from that class in trying to revive their party. That means seven of 22 GOP incumbents who lost four years ago are seeking some kind of comeback.

For Simmons, Hostettler and Hayworth (who announced a bid against Sen. John McCain this weekend), they will run for the Senate. The others are eyeing a return to the House, including Bass, who has an exploratory committee, and Pombo, who is running in a district neighboring his old one.

Six members of the 2008 losing class are either running again or are considering it, but the size of that class is still up in the air. Former Reps. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) are already in, and former Reps. David Davis (R-Tenn.), Bill Sali (R-Idaho) and Virgil Goode (R-Va.) may run for their old seats.

They start out with a huge advantage in that they don’t have to spend a million dollars on building name recognition. That, and the fact that many of them lost by less than landslide margins to the Democratic incumbent and you have the makings for some real barnburners in November.

It takes more than attractive, well known, and well funded candidates to win a lot of seats. It takes an coherent platform for the candidates to run on. Brian Faughnan of RedState attended the GOP retreat yesterday and reports:

I’m also told to count on an updated version of the Contract With America (no surprise there). But I’m told to expect it later, rather than sooner. One staffer pointed out that a Contract which comes early will be forgotten by voters by election day. One that comes late is more likely to be remembered, and to feed some excitement about the coming agenda. Former Speaker Gingrich (I was told) had made this point in his comments.

I suppose there’s logic in that but an alternative take on this is that Republicans can’t come up with a positive agenda at the moment and have deferred work on it until they can come up with one. Recycling the Ryan health care bill is probably not a good idea if Obamacare fails, but getting together on some deficit cutting measures is almost certainly in the offing as is some sort of tax cutting jobs measure.

As bad as it is for Democrats right now, the fact that Obama does not appear to be a game changing stone tied around their necks along with a singular lack of GOP policy alternatives at the moment, means that even their House majority seems safe for now, with the senate clearly out of reach.

Faughnan again:

While a session with pollsters Kellyanne Conway and David Livingston was not open to the press, Republican Members were delighted after the presentation. One told me that the pollsters stressed the importance of winning independent voters, rather than turning out the base. They said that a critical reason for the GOP landslide in 1994 was that independents favored the GOP by a 14 point margin. The latest polling – the GOP was told – puts Republicans ahead by 15 points.

Livingston and Conway also stressed that voters are not personally rejecting Barack Obama, and they cautioned against being seen as opposing the president personally. They said that it is his policies which are unpopular, and candidates should be careful to draw the distinction. They told the conference that simply opposing the Democrats will net 20 House seats or so; proposing a positive agenda of their own would net 20 more.

That sounds about right, although I think it is a little optimistic to expect another 20 seats will fall if the GOP can ever get their act together and come up with an agenda that will gain the support of indies without turning off the enthusiasm of the base. Other political pros are not as sanguine. Rothenberg gives the GOP a 28 seat pick up scenario. Cook has a possible 25-35 seat swing for the Republicans. Both gentlemen are saying that it could get worse for the Dems if the economy doesn’t improve.

It’s hard to be the opposition for two years and then turn around and try to be positive in proposing what should be done to make things better in the country. I think this will be the greatest challenge the GOP will face as they are forced to pivot from standing athwart history screaming “stop” to the Democrat’s far left agenda, to trying to address the concerns of ordinary Americans. Simply presenting themselves as an alternative to the Democrats will get them only so far. The test of leadership – and the resulting electoral popularity – comes in articulating a vision of how you would govern.

I was encouraged with what I saw at the televised retreat yesterday. For the first time in a long time, the Republicans actually presented viable alternatives to many of Obama’s prescriptions for the country. This is not to say they didn’t have them (the Ryan health care bill was introduced last May), it’s just that they didn’t promote these alternatives in a consistent, articulate manner.

Imagine rather than screaming “socialist” every day since Obamacare has been an issue, the GOP had calmly and repeatedly countered with Ryan’s common sense health care reforms. Every day getting in front of the cameras and daring the president to call them the “party of no” while exposing his lies about working toward a bi-partisan solution. I daresay if the American people had become as familiar with the Republican alternative as with Obamacare, they may very well have preferred the GOP’s solutions.

Or what would have been the result if, last February, the GOP had actually come up with a counter-stimulus – one without all the bells, whistles, political payoffs, and wasteful spending in Porkulus – and gone in front of the cameras every day touting it?

If they had, they wouldn’t have the credibility problem they have today. The GOP may very well come up with “Contract for America II” but how will voters respond to it if all the Republicans have been doing for two years is trying to get people to believe that the president is destroying America? Most people do not believe that, or anything close to it, and wonder about a political party that tries to make that case.

Thankfully, the Democrats have screwed up so badly that a couple of dozen seats are likely to fall into the GOP’s laps no matter what they propose. I just wonder that if the Republicans fall short of overturning Congress, they will recognize too late that a marvelous opportunity has passed them by thanks to their near-nihilistic antipathy to using government rationally, and conservatively, to make a difference in the lives of America’s citizens.