- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Pretty soon the Republicans on the line in November will have to worry about peaking too soon. Democrats are up to their knees in a large slough of despond. All about seems only despair and dejection with no way out.

When Walter Cronkite, the gray eminence of television news and once a fan of the Vietnam War, turned against it, Lyndon Johnson threw up his hands. “If I’ve lost Cronkite,” he told an aide, “I’ve lost America.”

Theirs is no gray eminence any longer in television news — who needs one when you’ve got Megyn Kelly — but there is that creepy-crawly thing that goes up and down Chris Matthews’ leg (the left one, probably) to give him a cheap thrill when he thinks of Barack Obama. But now the thrill is gone.

Chris now concedes the Senate to the Republicans.

It’s true that things don’t look great for the Democrats. It’s still early, and the Republicans have a gift for putting up goofy candidates who say foolish things.

But the pungent odor of defeat hangs heavy over President Obama and the White House, and Democratic incumbents in the House dread his getting anywhere near their districts between now and November.

It’s usually impolitic to say this about a president of your own party, but the embattled incumbents, and that includes most of them, are trying now to invent clever ways to say, “Obama who?”

If it’s crucial to remember that “it’s the economy, Stupid,” as James Carville famously suggested in the mantra he wrote for Bill Clinton three presidents ago, it’s difficult to see how the outlook will get much brighter this year for the Democrats.

They can run from Obamacare, but they can’t hide. They voted for it, and nobody else did. “Fix it, don’t repeal it,” and “Mend it, don’t break it,” is thin soup.

Republicans tried this once with “Stay the course,” and it didn’t work then, either. The long view is never popular with voters.

The president’s approval rating, on which Democratic prospects ride, has been sinking steadily since the rollout of Obamacare. A new poll for The New York Times and CBS News shows his approval down to 41 percent, with disapproval at 51 percent. Only 38 percent approve of his handling of the economy.

The Democrats will try to change the subject, but they can’t unless the Republicans let them. “It’s the economy, Stupid,” and fortunately for the Republicans that economy includes Obamacare.

It’s part of what Eric Cantor, the leader of the Republican majority in the House, calls “the middle-class squeeze.” It’s a clever term, short and memorable if not so sweet, because the middle class is where everyone wants to be. Relieving the middle-class squeeze is where every politician should want to be.

When they’re changing the subject, the Democrats will invariably want to change it to a subject that no one else is much interested in talking about. Global warming, even if called “climate change,” has no particular appeal; one poll finds that voters rank it 14th of 15 concerns. Free condoms and gay wedding cakes can stir up the left-wing fever swamp, but have little appeal to anyone but feminists and gay-wedding planners.

Republicans must replace six Democratic senators to take control of the Senate, and, with serendipitous fortune, the keys lie in several red states where President Obama is particularly unpopular. The Republicans have good candidates who face weak incumbents in several of these states.

These weak incumbents include Mary L. Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark L. Pryor in Arkansas, John Walsh in Montana and Mark Udall in Colorado. In addition, there’s an open seat in West Virginia.

Mistakes, who makes them and who doesn’t, will determine some of the winners. Mr. Pryor, for example, is locked in a close race with Rep. Tom Cotton, the Republican challenger who served two tours of military duty, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He’s particularly popular in his district for having survived not only Iraq and Afghanistan, but a college education at Harvard as well.

Mr. Pryor feels a hot breath on the back of his neck, and told an NBC interviewer the other day that he thinks Mr. Cotton has the “sense of entitlement that he gives off is that, almost like, ‘I survived my country, let me into the Senate. But that’s not how it works in Arkansas.”

But it often is. Arkansas once had successive lieutenant governors who were holders of the Medal of Honor and sacrifice is deeply honored.

It’s mistakes like this that cost elections. Dumb and thoughtless remarks can be replayed dozens of times during a campaign. Let the peaking begin.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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