If the Democrats are looking for graveyards to whistle past, taking false courage in the babble of frightened voices, they should find them in the Middle West, where Republicans once owned most of the electoral real estate and Democrats have pried a lot of it out of their grip in recent decades.
Several Democratic governors are in deep trouble as the campaigns rattle and rumble within five weeks of doomsday. The public-opinion polls show just 35 percent of Midwestern voters say they expect to vote Democratic, four points shy of the mark in what has become the Solid South for Republicans. Several gubernatorial candidates in the Midwest are not even breaking 30 percent favorable.
“There’s little doubt that the Midwest is the Democrats’ toughest region this year,” says Democratic pollster Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling. He finds excitement and anticipation among Democrats down dramatically, a full 10 points from two years ago. The pols and their consultants call this “the enthusiasm gap,” and the learned professors of gapology say it’s far more fearsome than gaps of elections past, such as the once-fashionable and now mostly forgotten “gender gap.”
“If the election was held today, the party would almost certainly lose the governorships it holds in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania,” he says. “It’s also more than likely at this point to lose the Senate seats it has in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Indiana, miss out on a once-promising pickup opportunity in Ohio, and quite possibly lose [its] seat in Illinois as well.” Worse, because the party is trying desperately to hold the House, “there are too many House seats the party could lose in the region to count.”
If Democratic clients are hearing only dirges that grow more mournful by the day, Republican pollsters are sending situation reports to their clients reeking of language little short of gleeful happy talk. Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies calls the Midwest “a killing field” for Democrats this year. “From western [Pennsylvania] through to the Plains, Republicans are going to sweep a lot of Democrats right out of office.”
The news is not much better anywhere else except in the Northeast and pockets of the West, and even there, the prospects are not even close to what Democrats confidently expected just six months ago. Voters can’t get at Barack Obama this year, so they’re taking out their frustration on anyone who looks like he was, is or might one day be Mr. Obama’s friend. In California, where expensive goofiness is the first article of the catechism of the Church of Happy Dreams and Liberal Fantasy, Sen. Barbara Boxer has been abandoned by a growing number of her acolytes. She has only rarely ventured out of the shadows of Senate obscurity, most recently with her angry scolding of a general who, thinking he was being polite and respectful, called her “Ma’am.” She insisted that everyone must call her “Senator,” and now it looks as if no one will have to do that after November. Even the San Francisco Chronicle, the faithful journal of California’s famous fruits and nuts, has had enough. The editors want to treat the senator to a trip to Splitsville.
“There is no reason to believe that another six-year term would bring anything but more of the same uninspired representation,” the newspaper’s editors observed more in sadness than anger, explaining why the paper would not endorse her again. “The challenger, Republican Carly Fiorina, has campaigned with a vigor and directness that suggests she would be effective in Washington.” But alas, the Chronicle noted, she would be effective in resisting all the things San Francisco Democrats love and cherish — the global-warming scam, the ruinous Obama health care legislation, the relentless campaign to spend billions and billions of dollars to pump up bigger and bigger government.
In part, old voting patterns are emerging again, with Ronald Reagan Democrats remembering their happy romance with Republicans and, in larger part, voters feeling cheated by Mr. Obama, though the president shouldn’t be blamed for misplaced adoration. The voters of ‘08 followed him with childlike abandon, like the rats and children of Hamelin in pursuit of the Pied Piper. In a kinder, gentler analogy, the voters who couldn’t get enough of Mr. Obama’s charm, seductive demeanor and honeyed words just two years ago are like the new husband discovering to his chagrin that his young bride is a beauty in her nightie but can’t make a passable biscuit. Somebody’s got to pay for a swindle like that.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.