Bush backlash may cause democratic surge
By By Steve Flowers
The horses are at the starting gate and the presidential horserace is set to begin. It will be a sprint to the finish line. It will be close with probably a photo finish. In less than six weeks, it will be all over but the shouting.
The conventions have ended with their coronations of Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee and John McCain as the Republican standard bearer. For the first time in many years the major party nominees are both sitting members of the U.S. Senate. In recent years, most of the nominees have been current or former Governors.
This Senate membership is about the only similarity between the two candidates. McCain is a 72-year-old, four-term Arizona Senator, who is short and somewhat unexciting. In contrast, Obama has dynamic charisma and oratorical skills. He is only 47-years-old and energetic and has only been in the Senate for three years. The race will center on McCain’s stability and experience versus Obama’s theme for change.
McCain is shackled with the George Bush Iraq invasion and concurrent national deficit and poor economy. On the other hand, Obama, in his short tenure in the Senate, has earned the dubious distinction of being the most liberal member of that august body, which includes Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.
Given the unpopularity of Bush, the Iraq war, and the economic recession, a Democratic victory appears inevitable. A generic poll shows Americans favor a Democrat by 15 points. However, in a head to head match-up McCain and Obama are even. Remember, we do not elect the President directly. It is decided by Electoral College votes. Therefore, the national horserace numbers are irrelevant because the race will be decided in the all important swing states. Obama needs to win Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. All three of these states voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in their Democratic primaries. Also, remember more people vote against someone than for someone. Therefore, despite all the tea leaves pointing to a Democratic year, Obama may very well still lose.
However, even if Obama does not win the White House you can look for a Democratic tsunami in congressional and senatorial races, similar to the avalanche of 2006. George Bush’s legacy with the Republican Party may be the same as Herbert Hoover’s.
The polling numbers portend a significant Democratic landslide in congressional races. Conservative estimates suggest that Democrats could pick up twenty seats in the House and as many as five Senate seats. In special elections held earlier this year, Democrats won three seats held previously by Republicans. One was a Mississippi district, which Bush won with 63 percent in 2004. Trent Lott’s Senate seat may be won by a Democrat in Mississippi. The Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, a former Governor, holds an eight point lead over Republican incumbent Roger Wicker.
Veteran Republican New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici’s decision to retire after 35 years has left that seat open for a Democrat to probably capture. In addition to the New Mexico seat, Democrats expect to pickup seats in Colorado where Sen. Wayne Allard is retiring, in New Hampshire where former Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen is challenging Sen. John Sununu and in Virginia where former Governor Mark Warner is seeking the seat of retiring Sen. John Warner. Even in hardcore Republican Nebraska, the Republicans will have to fight to hold the seat of retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel.
The three most vulnerable Republican Senators are ironically the most moderate and have consistently distanced themselves from Bush. However, Bush’s unpopularity may bring them down. Susan Collins of Maine is an outstanding and respected moderate who may lose. The same is true for Oregon Senator Gordon Smith. Obama is expected to carry this state overwhelmingly and Smith is predicted to be swept out with the tide. In the pivotal swing state of Minnesota you will see the most interesting Senate race in the nation. Incumbent Republican Norm Coleman may lose to comedian Al Franken who is the Democratic challenger. In this apparent Democratic tidal wave, the money is overwhelmingly going their way. The Democratic Senatorial Committee has out raised the Republicans by 2 to 1 and the House Democrats have a 4 to 1 advantage over the GOP House Committee. The Republicans are further hampered by the fact that they have to defend twenty-three Senate seats and the Democrats only twelve.
It should be an interesting fall.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.