RALEIGH – If today were Election Day, it would be a disaster for the Democrats.
The Republican Party would retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives, with seats to spare, including the 8th District here in North Carolina and possibly two or three more. In the U.S. Senate, the GOP would win a net gain of eight seats, and possibly the two more needed for a majority in that chamber.
Of the 37 gubernatorial contests on the ballot this year, Republicans would win most of the competitive races – keeping the top jobs in California, Texas, Florida, and Georgia while picking up other big states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. The GOP would also win as many as 500 legislative seats across the country, flipping a dozen or more chambers from Democratic to Republican – including both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly.
That would put the Republicans partially or fully in charge in most state capitals.
The damage would extend all the way down the ballot here in North Carolina. If today were Election Day, Republicans would wrest as many as a dozen county commissions from the Democrats, including Wake County. While officially nonpartisan, the races for supreme court and court of appeals would yield mostly conservative victors, maintaining the current tilt on the high court and shifting the appeals court rightward.
The good news for Democrats is that today is not Election Day. With eight weeks left until the polls close on November 2, enough time remains for some of these trends to be arrested, if not reversed. There could be a massive rebound in employment in the October jobs report. Disasters, international crises, or damaging revelations about key Republican candidates could help change the political subject, dampen GOP enthusiasm, and increase Democratic turnout.
The bad news for Democrats, however, is that these possibilities aren’t likelihoods. For months, there’s been a massive energy gap favoring the GOP. It seems likely to persist. The public dislikes ObamaCare and wants it repealed. The public is worried about the economy, distraught about the burgeoning federal debt, and angry at wasteful spending.
The public disagrees with bailouts of banks, insurers, Wall Street firms, and automakers – bailouts that had at least the acquiescence of President Bush but are now strongly identified with the Democratic Congress.
Here in North Carolina, Democrats are struggling not only with the inevitable political damage wrought by a painful recession but also a series of scandals involving current and former state politicians. For the first time in decades, Republicans are competitive in fundraising and have recruited a strong field of candidates for almost all the competitive races.
The worst news of all for Democrats is that the disaster scenario for the Democratic Party isn’t based on wishful thinking by Republican operatives and conservative pundits. It is the conventional wisdom among political observers of all stripes, as is evident by the current political posturing of Gov. Bev Perdue and other key Democrats. Most Democratic pros admit privately that if things don’t turn around in the next two months, their losses would match if not exceed their drubbing in 1994.
The preponderance of polling points in that direction. The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showed a 49-41 Republican edge in its most recent generic ballot test for the North Carolina legislature. Nationally, recent generic polling for Congress show Republican margins of between seven and 13 points, with the likely-voter samples yielding results on the upper end of that spread.
If GOP candidates really enjoy these kinds of popular-vote margins on Election Day, it would be devastating for a Democratic Party that enjoyed strong wave elections in 2006 and 2008. It would mean a comfortable GOP majority in the U.S. House, possibly a Republican U.S. Senate, and GOP majorities in the North Carolina General Assembly of something like 28 to 30 seats in the state senate and 68 to 72 seats in the state house.
It would be a true political revolution.
But the political pendulum never stops. A Republican Congress would be a useful foil for President Obama, just as a Republican legislature would be for Gov. Perdue and the Newt Gingrich-led Republican House was for President Clinton in 1995-96. The GOP could no longer run against incompetent, corrupt government. It would have to govern – to make tough decisions to bring federal and state spending under control, and to replace failed monopolies and big-government “reforms” with consumer choice and competitive markets.
If today were Election Day, GOP leaders in Washington, Raleigh, and state capitals across the country would have to start figuring out how to meet that challenge.
Instead, both sides have eight more weeks before crunch time.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.