The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Ask Not For Whom the Special Elections Toll, Obama


In the Morning Jolt, I try to put last night’s fantastic special election victories for Republicans in context for the 2012 presidential election. Sure, special election victories don’t always foreshadow how the subsequent national elections will turn out. But last night’s eye-popping results wouldn’t have occurred without a vivid national political environment, and it’s one that is extraordinarily ominous for Democrats.

About Last Night

Congratulate two new Republican members of Congress: Mark Amodei of Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District and Bob Turner of New York’s 9th Congressional District.

Regarding the latter, “Democrats have held [this district]for 88 consecutive years,” observes Brent Teichman.

Redistricting will force New York to lose a congressional seat in the 2012 elections, and so it’s possible that Turner will find himself running against an incumbent next November.

It’s worth noting that special-election victories don’t always foreshadow the trend of the following elections; Democrats enjoyed special-election wins by Scott Murphy and Bill Owens in New York, Ted Deutch in Florida, and Mark Critz in Pennsylvania in 2009 and 2010 before getting thrashed in the 2010 midterms; the GOP won special elections with John Campbell and Brian Bilbray in California in 2005 and 2006, and then went on to lose the House and Senate in 2006.

But Democrats shouldn’t fool themselves – which is, perhaps, what they’re best at. If Obama’s approval rating was in the high 50s and unemployment was 6 percent, these races would have looked different. While we never know what the future holds, there are not many folks who are predicting or projecting an economy that looks significantly better in autumn 2012 than it does in autumn 2011. And if that’s the case, how high can Obama’s approval rating be by Election Day next year? 50 percent? The mid-40s? Based on trends, it can and probably will be lower, and perhaps much lower, as he will be assessed in voters’ minds through the prism of four years of hard times.

I listen to Democrats today and I hear a lot of echoes of Republicans in Bush’s second term, after his numbers really took a tumble post-Katrina. A lot of Bush’s supporters were convinced that sooner or later it would turn around, that it was just a long slump, etc. It never really did turn around much, and then when Lehman collapsed and the economy tumbled at the end, the bottom fell out.

A friend reminded me yesterday that I (apparently) said, shortly after Obama’s election, that if you run on hope and fail to deliver, you’ll find yourself running for reelection in a supremely cynical nation.

Liz Mair concludes, “I’m thinking that ethics/sleaze issues + less-than-awesome opinion of Obama = combo that gives Republicans a shot in even unlikely places.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Bob Turner , Mark Amodei


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