- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Democrats, stung by unexpected defeats in the past two national elections, are trying to fend off poll-generated overconfidence by staying on the offensive and focusing on get-out-the-vote efforts.

“We’ve learned our lessons. The last two elections we thought we’d do better. Nobody’s taking their foot off the gas,” said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network.

“There’s a cautious optimism that’s broken out. I don’t think anyone’s overconfident right now,” said Mr. Rosenberg, whose group works on Democratic message and voter turnout.

Danny Briscoe, a campaign media consultant and former Kentucky state Democratic Party chairman, says from party leaders and pundits to grass-roots Democrats, feelings swing between disbelief and superconfidence — at least when it comes to House control.

“Mostly, our people are afraid to believe it,” he said of favorable polling.

“They think [Karl] Rove may have something up his sleeve, they remember exit polls said Kerry beat Bush, they remember Republicans not losing seats in 2002 and 2004 under Bush when history said they should have.”

Fighting those feelings of disbelief, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has emphasized that a Democratic takeover of the House isn’t definite and that there’s still work to be done.

“While the indicators look good, it drives us to work harder,” said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for the California Democrat.

But Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, recently told the New York Times that some Democrats are in “somersault land” already, a luxury he said he doesn’t have.

With polls showing a notable lead for their party, some Democrats have clearly found it impossible to temper their extreme confidence.

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, predicted at a recent party event that Democrats will exceed the 15-seat net gain they need to retake the House.

“Democrats will take 40 seats in the House, and if the election were held today, we’d take control of the Senate too,” he said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, recently told New Hampshire’s Union Leader that he’s “very confident” of a House victory for Democrats and “hopeful” of one in the Senate, where Democrats need a net gain of six seats.

And even Mrs. Pelosi laughed and told the Associated Press this month: “I’ll have any suite I want” when asked where her office would be if she becomes speaker of the House.

Polls in the past few days have indicated that Democrats lead Republicans by an average of 16.8 percentage points in generic party-preference polls. The latest nonpartisan Cook Political Report poll reported that most likely voters prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress by 22 percentage points.

“Waves come crashing in; they also pull you out,” cautioned Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.

“We have to focus on our efforts between now and election night and spend less time focusing on … the drapes we’ll pick out.”

There is some evidence that Democrats’ confidence may be premature.

Dick Morris, a former strategist for President Clinton, yesterday wrote that the Republican base “seems to be coming back home,” according to vague emerging trends in polls.

In the Tennessee Senate race for instance, Republican Bob Corker has taken a lead over Democrat Harold E. Ford Jr., according to Zogby and Rasmussen polls. In New Jersey’s Senate race, Republican Tom Kean Jr. now leads Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez in the latest Zogby poll.

The generic Democratic edge is down from nine points a few weeks ago to four points now, according to the Zogby survey — all of which prompt the two strategists to say control of Congress has shifted from “lean Democrat” to a “tossup.”

A Gallup poll over the weekend also found 54 percent think their own representative deserves to be re-elected.

Still, both parties know the ultimate outcome largely hangs on voter turnout.

“You don’t count polls; you count heads,” Mr. Redfern said.

He said his get-out-the-vote operation is shunning “the unbridled enthusiasm” for Democrats that he sees coming from Washington pundits and pollsters.

In Ohio and elsewhere, Democrats are working this year to match the successful voter turnout program Republicans put in place.

“I’ve seen no signs of Democratic overconfidence as I travel the country, because overconfidence is when you believe something will happen but don’t have a lot of good reasons,” said Merrill Matthews, a political analyst for the Texas-based think tank Institute for Policy Innovation.