By A.B. Stoddard - 09/30/09 11:11 PM EDT
It won’t be 1994 all over again, but 2010 could be just as bad. Sure, the economy could improve by then, though any significant employment boost is highly unlikely. The Obama administration will spread some stimulus money around next year in key battleground states. Republicans have no positive message and no Contract With America to run on. Finally, Democrats, as of yet, aren’t facing retirements in their ranks.
Seniors currently represent the biggest threat to the Democratic majority. Traditionally they are the most loyal voters — two-thirds of voters 65 and older came to the polls in 2006.
This year, after voting largely for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, seniors became the fiercest opponents of healthcare reform. Young voters and African-American voters, who turned out in droves in 2008, will be no match for the senior vote next fall.
If independents, who now give the GOP the advantage in the generic ballot, stay home or vote Republican, then Democrats must count on a disappointed base to turn out instead.
From anti-war liberals to Latinos who see immigration reform going nowhere in Congress and unions who have seen card-check legislation pushed aside, the left is becoming dispirited. And healthcare reform without a public option will add fuel to their fire.
By many indications, Democrats have likely reached their high-water mark with their current majorities in Congress. Losing seats in the House and in the Senate, losing the ability to block filibusters, will make passing their bills increasingly difficult. In addition, the stretch from 2010 to 2012 promises to be a time of partisan contraction, or political moderation, as President Barack Obama moves toward a reelection campaign in 2012. Even if Obama wins, Republicans will likely be well-positioned for more gains that year, and in 2014 you can expect the retirement of many old bulls — possibly including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — who will have reached a certain age and will be expecting the return of the GOP to power in that midterm election. Indeed, 2014 could be a slaughter.
What does this mean for Democrats? That it is later than they think, because the opportunity to pass huge bills could disappear with subsequent elections. Healthcare reform, cap-and-trade, financial-services regulation — all the politically contentious, risky legislation on the agenda — the time to move them could be now or never.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.