By Mark Mellman - 11/03/09 10:16 PM EST
We know that if the 2010 elections had been held Tuesday, Democrats would be in deep trouble. We also know the 2010 elections won’t be held until, well, 2010.
We already know the economy profoundly influences election results and that circumstances have rarely been worse. We also know the economy is unlikely to look and feel exactly the same a year from now as it does today.
We already know it is a hard time to be a governor. Even when voters do not blame them for economic conditions, recessions nonetheless exact a toll on chief executives. SurveyUSA tracked approval ratings for 11 governors from October 2008 through September or October of this year. On average, their approval ratings plummeted over 12 points. Incumbents of both parties suffered — Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval declined by 19 points, Tim Pawlenty’s by 10.
In the history of polling, just 12 other governors with approval ratings as low as Jon Corzine’s have attempted to run for reelection — only two won. Reading this, you will know the fate of the 13th, though I do not — but history suggests defeat is to be expected, while victory should be cause for extraordinary celebration.
In Virginia, Democrat Creigh Deeds faces an opponent to whom he already lost a statewide race. In the current national climate and after eight years of Democrats in the statehouse, with the incumbent also suffering from negative job ratings, through no fault of his own, it is little surprise that Virginians want a change.
Like Claude Rains in “Casablanca,” some Republicans will be “shocked, shocked” that turnout this year will be different from that of 2008, when the hope instilled by Barack Obama and the anger evoked by George Bush propelled Democrats to the polls. No serious student of politics could expect a repeat of ’08 in ’09.
The constellation of forces in 2010 will differ from those in both 2008 and 2009. Turnout will not look like 2008, but Democratic incumbents will have been able to cultivate support in new constituencies as they march toward 2010.
Voters are likely to see the point of inflection in the economy, perceiving that the upturn has begun. That will not only lighten the burden Democrats carry, it may also provide a push in the right direction as voters ask why Republicans marched in lockstep opposition to policies that will, by then, be beginning to bring us out of recession.
Another well-known trend rearing its head in this off-off-year will likely have greater resonance in 2010 and beyond — the far right’s takeover of the Republican Party. We did not need the events in NY-23 to alert us to the fact, but they do underline the reality. As Republican candidates move further to the right to secure their shrinking base of ideologically rigid primary voters, they become less and less acceptable to swing voters, boosting Democratic prospects across the country.
As I have noted here before, 2010 is likely to witness Democratic losses in line with historical averages. 2010 certainly will not look like the golden Democratic years at the end of the Bush presidency. But nothing that happened yesterday changes any of that.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.