Monday, October 11, 2010

Dems will find "smoking rubble that used to be their party"

If the polls are accurate and the analysts are correct, Democrats will awake on the morning of Nov. 3 to gaze at the pile of smoking rubble that used to be their party. They will have lost control of the House of Representatives, and their margin in the Senate will have been shaved to as few as two seats.

As Democrats braced for the worst midterm result in many years, party strategists suggested that congressional candidates position themselves as outsiders who understand that government hasn't adequately addressed the ills - particularly the economic ones - afflicting the country. While they didn't recommend that candidates overtly run against their own party and president, the clear message was to avoid running too closely with them.

But the strategy has shifted as conservative insurgents who were once given little chance of success achieved a string of stunning victories, defeating establishment-backed Republicans in primary contests. The new Democratic strategy is to portray Republican candidates as extreme, fringe, radical captives of the political phenomenon known as the tea party.

Initially underestimated as a loose-knit band of malcontents and ideologues, the tea-party movement has gained significant momentum and gone national. Democrats have seized upon some of the more outlandish comments of candidates associated with the movement in an effort to convince voters that their ideas are narrow and destructive.

If little changes in the polls, it's likely that the campaigns will turn harsher and uglier. Discussion of issues will be perfunctory at best. The focus will be on personal flaws and dark warnings about dangerous and extreme views.

The problem for Democrats is that, at least so far, this strategy has had minimal impact. Polls and predictions by academics and longtime operatives of both parties continue to foretell significant Republican gains, with perhaps as many as 50 seats changing hands.

The widespread discontent and restiveness that helped Barack Obama achieve victory nearly two years ago has escalated to a boiling anger as the distressed economy lingers, unemployment continues to hover near 10 percent, home foreclosures swell, and the national debt climbs to an unprecedented level. The perception is that little has improved even as government spending has soared.

In such an environment, the party in power is held accountable.

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