The Sunday Take

Desperate Democrats pin their hopes on scary Republicans

If you missed any of this year's primaries -- or just forgot -- here are the names and faces you need to know in November.
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 15, 2010

Democrats have no illusions about what they're up against this fall: a terrible economic climate, a sour electorate and a sizable enthusiasm gap.

There's little that President Obama and other Democrats can do between now and November to change the economy's trajectory, other than hope for better job numbers in September and October -- a dubious proposition given assessments about the sluggishness of the recovery.

Absent economic changes, the public's mood isn't likely to brighten much over the next few months. The latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans believe that the economy has not hit bottom. Gallup found that 58 percent say the economy, jobs and unemployment are the major problems facing the country. No other issues come close.

That means Obama and the other Democrats face an uphill climb to convince voters that what they have done is working. Rather than trumpeting their legislative record, it appears likely that the Democrats' favored tactic will be claiming that Republicans would do worse.

There's no question that voters hold Republicans in even lower esteem than Democrats. Only one in four Americans has a positive view of the Republican Party today, according to the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. That is a record low.

But in a midterm election that will play out against the backdrop of a poor economy, that tactic may not help the Democrats much. If voters are as unhappy as they seem, they will take it out on the party in power, regardless of the qualms they might have about the Republicans.

This should sound familiar to Democrats. Their victories in 2006 had everything to do with dissatisfaction with then-President George W. Bush and very little to do with voters' feelings about the Democrats.

The same NBC-Wall Street Journal poll that shows Republicans at an ebb today has a table that indicates the record low for Democrats came in July 2006, four months before they took back the House and Senate.

Democratic leaders have moved predictably in recent days to paint the Republicans as scary and extreme. They and their allies have launched a campaign around the 75th anniversary of Social Security, asserting that if Republicans come back to power, they will destroy the government's retirement security program by turning it into a privatized system.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine has led a chorus of Democrats contending that Republicans have nominated a group of extremists whose views are far outside the mainstream of the country.

In some cases, that might be correct. Sharron Angle, the GOP's Senate candidate in Nevada, is Exhibit A. Angle, a "tea party" favorite, is challenging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and she has been backing away from some of her past statements. Reid's path to reelection is still treacherous, but somewhat less so because of Angle.

Rand Paul, the libertarian who won the Senate nomination in Kentucky with tea party support, is another candidate with controversial views. But Kentucky remains a hard state for Democrats.

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