Bob Franken

The Democrats’ Best Hope: Republicans

Copyrighted by Hearst-New York Times News Service
August 11, 2010

The indicators are so dismal for Democrats that they couldn’t be blamed if they decided to forfeit the November elections.

The immortal words of one of their own, James Carville, are being thrown right back in their faces by Republicans. Of course, I mean Carville’s 1992 declaration: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

If today’s economic situation is not in the tank, it sure looks like it may be teetering on the edge again. Pessimism reigns. The newest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that nearly two-thirds of those polled are depressed about the perceived recession.

As much as Democrats would still like to blame George W. Bush, he’s no longer president, a job that is also known as the “Blame-Taker-in Chief.” And the poll numbers show that.

Six in 10 feel President Obama’s economic policies have fallen short. This is not exactly a hospitable environment for those in his own party, struggling to keep Republicans from taking control of Congress.

There is one number that gives Democrats a glimmer of hope. That’s the puny 24 percent of voters who give the Republicans a positive mark, a new low for the Wall Street Journal’s survey. But even that glimmer is tarnished for the Democrats by their own 33 percent rating, which is pretty close to their historic bottom.

Democratic pollster Peter Hart, a member of the team that conducted the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, suggested that widespread public frustration was symbolized by the JetBlue flight attendant who used the emergency slide to jump out of his plane after it landed at Kennedy Airport following a confrontation with a passenger.

The November balloting is the “JetBlue election,” Hart said. “Everyone’s hurling invective and they’re all taking the emergency exit.

So the Republicans smell blood—and their base is stoked by their passionate belief that the country is heading toward socialistic ruin. As for the Democratic base, it’s disgruntled with little to get gruntled about. . . .or get revved up enough to vote.

The D’s have one big chance against the R’s. It’s the strategy as old as politics: Go negative. So do not be surprised to hear Democrats engaging in some GOP name-calling—.names like Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, Linda McMahon—and don’t forget Sarah Palin, the Mamma Grizzly, whatever that is.

Those are members of the GOP Wild Bunch. . . Senate nominees who march to the Tea Party’s drummers.

Nevada’s Angle has already accomplished the impossible by giving Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid a chance of being re-elected. McMahon, the former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO, can expect a no-holds-barred campaign against her in Connecticut.

As for Paul, in Kentucky, he’s taking a crash course in keeping his political opinions to himself after a few wisps eked out, such as his skeptical view of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After his remarks sparked criticism, he quickly announced he would not support its repeal.

The primaries in Florida and Arizona on Aug. 24 are likely to give us more evidence of the public mood.

Florida is the test of nouveau Independent Charlie Crist, who after being shunned by conservative fundamentalists as not “Republican enough,” bailed on his on his party and will run in November against the anointed Republican, Marco Rubio, and whichever Democrat emerges from the primary.

As for Arizona, the big issue is immigration. Incumbent Sen. John McCain is doing everything he can to obscure his record of moderation because he’s running against J.D. Hayworth, a red-meat conservative, former member of the U.S. House and recent the radio talk show host.

A good rule of thumb is to be wary of conventional wisdom, even if the polls back it up. Right now consensus is that this is a “Throw-the-Rascals-Out” kind of year. The best hope for the Democrats is to hammer away at the ones who want to be thrown in.

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