By A.B. Stoddard - 07/21/10 10:16 PM EDT
The storm clouds remain, but there are suddenly silver linings for politically endangered Democrats to behold.
After a steady torrent of disappointing economic news, ominous polling, bad press and intra-party squabbling, Democrats are having a pretty great week. A major bill-signing for financial services regulation, the breakthrough passage of unemployment benefits, two polls measuring improved approval among independents and a new, pro-manufacturing agenda that puts the focus back on jobs have brightened the majority party’s dark picture.
This week Republicans have provided welcome distractions — additional financial troubles at the Republican National Committee (practically a staple by now); a stunning display by top Republicans on the congressional campaign committees who, when asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” could not cough up one policy proposal for deficit reduction the party would back in a new GOP majority; and there was more potent brew from the Republicans’ favorite third party as one national Tea Party sought to kick another branch out of its coalition. As President Obama went on offense over the jobs bill, congressional Republicans insisted that, despite their opposition, they too support unemployment benefits but just wanted to pay for them. Then the top two House GOP leaders struggled to make clear that while they love all that Tea Party energy, they weren’t willing to pay the political price of joining Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) new Tea Party Caucus.
Somehow events of late — which may have included comments by RNC Chairman Michael Steele on Afghanistan being President Obama’s war, a statement by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) likening the financial crisis to an ant and Rep. Joe Barton’s (R-Texas) apology to BP — have contributed to a sudden decline in support for Republicans among independents. Swing voters, who don’t follow the partisan tradition of knee-jerk forgiveness, have nudged toward Democrats in a new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey as well as a new Gallup poll. The Gallup poll found Democrats had gained a six-point lead over Republicans overall in the generic ballot.
If independents are suddenly less mad at Democrats, it may not just be a result of having their doubts about Republicans reinforced. It may be because independent voters support new regulations for Wall Street and join a majority of Americans that both an ABC News/Washington Post poll and a CBS News poll found support unemployment insurance even if it contributes to the deficit. The GOP has not insisted on the same offsets for an extension of the Bush tax cuts for top earners as the party did for unemployment insurance; whether independents side with Republicans on that issue could decide the fall election.
Indeed, Democrats need game changers more than subject changers, but changing the subject is a start. The last few days brought other bright news for Obama and the Democrats: that pro-immigration evangelicals are growing in number and prepared to cross the GOP to help President Obama pass comprehensive reform, and that more than half the states in the nation have already adopted the national education standards included in the president’s education reforms.
The game isn’t over, and all is not lost. Not this week.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.