Looking through recaps of last night's defeat in the Georgia Senate election, I agree with a lot of what Matt, Kos and Nate Silver have written.
Matt argues that it the country hasn't shifted so far to the left that a progressive has a decent shot in a statewide election in Georgia. Rather, we all knew it was always a longshot campaign, and people didn't want to invest in such a difficult election both after big wins in November and with so much other positive news for Democrats. Even Obama didn't invest himself too strongly, not wanting to risk political capital so recently after his election. So, Democratic turnout and activism were both down, making an already underdog campaign virtually impossible to win. I agree: we have moved the country, but a large, stable leftward shift has not yet materialized. We have more work to do.
Kos makes similar points to Matt about the lack of Democratic activist and voter enthusiasm, adding that special election and runoff elections have frequently swum against the dominant political tide. For example, Democrats won the Louisiana runoff in 2003, while Republicans won it in 2007. Republicans won the CA-50 special election in June 2006, but Democrats won the SD-AL and KY-06 special elections in early 2004. In all of those cases, the next federal election turned in the opposite direction. So, perhaps this result doesn't really mean much at all nationally, and is simply local. Again, I agree.
Nate brings up a more disturbing possibility: Democrats are already in the hot seat in the mind of the electorate, and will lose seats in both 2010 and 2012 unless they make real progress turning the country around. In other words, if Democrats can't fix the nation's problems, the country will actually turn back toward Republicans, and there will be no two to four year grace period as I have previously surmised. The reason Nate's thesis is so disturbing is that a new Democracy Corps poll shows he is probably correct.
The Democratic message in 2010 will essentially be one of two things...
1. Obama's accomplished X, Y and Z and showed the country the way forward, let's give him leaders in Congress who can continue to deliver for the middle class, or,
2. Obama accomplished X, but he couldn't accomplish Y and Z because the Republicans obstructed those measures to protect the special interests ... let's put partisanship behind us and elect leaders in Congress who can represent the common good.
Nate is correct about the messaging. That is how Democrats will run in 2010. As such, it is important to note a Democracy Corps poll released today showing that this legislation needs to be passed quickly and produce quick results. Otherwise, two years from now, the country won't still be overwhelmingly blaming Republicans if it doesn't:
Q.32 Now I'm going to read you some pairs of statements. After I read each pair, please tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own view, even if neither is exactly right.
32 (SPLIT A) I'm more concerned that Congress will prevent Barack Obama from making the kinds of changes he thinks are needed, by playing politics and catering too much to the special interests
I'm more concerned that the Democratic Congress will be too much of a rubber stamp for Barack Obama, and will push through Obama's programs whether they are good or bad
Agree first statement: 42%
Agree second statement: 49%
33 (SPLIT B) I'm more concerned that Republicans in Congress will obstruct Barack
Obama's agenda and prevent him from making the kinds of changes he thinks are needed.
I'm more concerned that Democrats in Congress will be too much of a rubber stamp for Barack Obama, and will push through Obama's programs whether they are good or bad.
Agree first statement: 43%
Agree second statement: 48%
So, last night's results and the Democracy Corps poll showed that the country isn't going to dump on Republicans forever. There is no grace period when the country will still vote for Democrats just because they hate Republicans. Democratic hopes in 2010 and 2012 rest entirely on our governing record during the next two to four years. Polling and election results show that Republican obstructionism will not be accepted as an excuse, and neither will be starting from the bottom of the deep hole Bush and Republicans dug for us. If we don't make things better, Republicans will immediately become competitive again, and the 2010-2012 political environment could be a lot more like 2000-2004 than 2005-2008.
In two years time, simply being a Democrat will no be longer good enough to be elected. We have been hired in huge numbers to solve problems without Republican interference. If we can't do that, then the country will sour on us, too. As such, the way back for Republicans is straightforward: hope that Democratic governance does not turn the country around.