EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the March 13, 2006, issue of National Review.
In 2004, Democratic strategists assumed that the presidential race would be a referendum on the incumbent. All previous presidential elections featuring an incumbent had turned on public attitudes toward him. That assumption made Democrats optimistic: Polls showed that most people felt that the country was “on the wrong track.” Dissatisfaction would naturally translate into opposition to President Bush.
The Democrats were wrong. Early on, Bush’s strategists had concluded that in a country as evenly divided as ours, the election would be as much about the opposition as about the incumbent. That’s why they started criticizing John Kerry in the spring. President Bush was reelected with the highest overall vote percentage for any presidential candidate in 16 years–even though, on Election Day, polls still showed that a majority of Americans felt we were on the wrong track. Bush won because a decisive number of them believed that electing Kerry would take us further down that track.
Even more Americans fear we are on the wrong track now. As Democrats look ahead to the 2006 elections, they think that this sentiment will work to their advantage–this time. Republicans, once again, are counting on the unloveliness of the Democrats to see them through. The Democrats’ flaws could indeed keep them from taking the House or making large gains in the Senate. But it would be risky for Republicans to count on it…
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