Important themes are emerging as party leaders move into full “campaign mode” 10 months ahead of the 2010 midterms.
The Hill looks at 10 to keep an eye on as we say goodbye to 2009.
1. How real is the tea party effect?
A side effect of the conservative enthusiasm permeating the electoral landscape has been, well, conservative enthusiasm. And the ultra-conservatives aren’t content to put impure conservative Republicans in office. There are plenty of primary challenges taking place, but it remains to be seen whether the vast majority of these anti-establishment candidates can actually put up a fight. Only time and money will tell, but conservatives like Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine Senate eyes plan B amid defense bill standoff To counter China, the Senate must confirm US ambassadors MORE in Florida’s Senate race and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP anger with Fauci rises Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Cotton swipes at Fauci: 'These bureaucrats think that they are the science' MORE in Kentucky’s provide something of a roadmap for these outsiders.
Democratic leaders profess the utmost confidence that there will be no Democratic exodus. And they’re probably being honest. But circumstances can change. Rep. Bart Gordon’s (D-Tenn.) office assured a week before his retirement that he, too, would be staying put. There’s also the matter of a series of top Democratic recruits abandoning their campaigns recently, not to mention Rep. Parker Griffith’s (Ala.) defection to the Republican Party. The Democrats insist they will stay on offense, but their offensive targets are decreasing while their open seats are increasing.
3. Will Republicans have the funds they need to win big?
While its prospects are looking up, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) continues to lag behind in fundraising. It has only about $2 million more cash than debt with less than a year to go. If it really intends to target 40 districts, it will need to start banking cash — fast. It has tried to get a leg up by recruiting a lot of self-funders, but such candidates have a poor electoral track record. And even they will be asking for some national party help down the stretch.
4. Does the economy turn around?
Both sides tend to agree that the No. 1 issue in 2010 will be the economy. After passing the $787 billion stimulus, Democrats own the issue, and they need some good signs this year. A drop in the unemployment rate would be huge for them, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), predicts they will get it in the next six months. Beyond that, if lending picks up, foreclosures drop and other signs point in the right direction, Republican momentum could be thwarted.
5. How will 2009 issues translate to 2010?
Democrats took a lot of tough votes in 2009, but 10 months is a lot of time for voters to forget. Democratic leaders have signaled the 2010 agenda will be much less perilous for vulnerable Democrats in conservative districts. But if they stop taking difficult votes now, will those from the past year still hurt them? The onus is on Republicans to make sure climate change, the stimulus and healthcare reform remain fresh in voters’ minds.
6. Can Republicans restore their good name?
It’s hard to see how congressional Republicans, with a lower approval rating than congressional Democrats, could retake the House. In last month’s national Quinnipiac survey, Republicans received a 29 percent approval rating, while Democrats were at 32 percent. That might be good enough for the GOP to retake a bunch of conservative-leaning districts, but if Republicans want to win in swing areas, they better hope they can at least raise their approval above Democrats’.
7. What does President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level Politics must accept the reality of multiracial America and disavow racial backlash To empower parents, reinvent schools MORE do for the Democrats?
Obama’s involvement in other candidates’ campaigns has been a mixed bag so far. Trying to appear bipartisan and avoid early setbacks, the president shied from top 2008 and 2009 campaigns. But that has begun to change. The question is, will it change enough? With all the money Democrats watched George W. Bush raise for Republicans during his presidency, you can bet it will be a sweepstakes for Obama’s help in 2010. There will also be the question of how much we see first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson Obama'Car guy' Biden puts his spin on the presidency Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Son gives emotional tribute to Colin Powell at service MORE and Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPfizer CEO says vaccine data for those under 5 could be available by end of year Omicron coronavirus variant found in at least 10 states Photos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles MORE on the trail. Expect a heavy dose of Biden, but plenty of lobbying for the commander in chief, too.
8. How much emphasis do the national parties put on governors' races?
This year will be a big one as far as control of Congress and the 60-seat Senate majority, but the battle over 37 governorships might be the biggest of all. Three-fourths of the governorships are up the year before congressional redistricting — a situation that occurs only once every 20 years — and the vast majority of these races are competitive. When it comes to the national parties, resources are not infinite. They will likely send plenty of money to these governors' races. It remains to be seen how they will spread the wealth when it comes to the federal side.
9. Will open seats ruin the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s (NRSC) Election Day?
Yes, Republicans have momentum, and yes, it’s looking more and more like they could unseat Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetHickenlooper: Law preventing cannabis business banking 'a recipe for disaster' Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Sununu exit underscores uncertain GOP path to gain Senate majority MORE (D-Colo.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Voters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama MORE (D-Nev.) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.). But it’s also pretty apparent that those wins could easily be offset by GOP-held open seats in Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio. If Republicans lose in Missouri and New Hampshire, for instance, they would basically need to win every other competitive state just to get to 45 seats.
10. Do Democrats face formidable primaries?
With all the talk about the tea party movement, sometimes we forget that Bennet and Specter face reputable primary challengers. There also continues to be talk of similar efforts against Lincoln and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandEx-officials voice deep concerns over new Pentagon UFO unit Paid leave advocates ramping up the pressure on Manchin and Schumer Gillibrand, bipartisan lawmakers push to keep military justice overhaul in NDAA MORE (D-N.Y.). So far, the only bona fide primary challenger to emerge has been Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) against Specter, but these other states are worth keeping an eye on, because all of them could be competitive come November.