Sunday, June 21, 2009

Could 2010 be like 1994?

This weekend was a slow one in terms of big political news. However, one story largely unreported by mainstream news -- but one that should give Republicans hope and Democrats heartache -- is the fact that Obama's approval ratings are starting to go down.

First of all, we have this story from Gallup that Obama's approval rating has dropped to a still strong but lower-than-ever 58%. Keep in mind that the 58% number is of ADULTS, which is nto people who who vote or are even registered to vote. Adults who aren't registered typically lean towards Democrats anyway. So, among registered or "likely" voters, it is likely that Obama's approval number is lower than 58%.

This is proven out in, Sunday's Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll, which shows Obama's "Total Approval" number all the way down to 53% compared to 46% dissapproving. This sample is among likely voters, who pay the most attention to what's going on and of course, are the voters most likely to participate in an off year election like is coming up here in 2009 (in Virginia and New Jersey) and in 2010. Even more alarming for Obama in this poll is the fact that among those who strongly approve or disapprove, Obama has gone into negative territory for the first time in his term -- just 32% strongly approve and 34% strong disapprove. Contrast that to about a month ago when the numbers were 36-28 -- +8 in favor. A simple look at the graph at the included link shows the trend line for Obama is not a good one.

What's interesting about these numbers is that they go against what the mainstream media is telling us - that Obama is personally popular, more than any recent President. This is actually not true -- the difference between Obama's first year and previous administrations is that overall, the Republican brand is unpopular and that resulted in Democrats having large majorities in both houses of Congress, particularly the Senate. The way most of the media would report it, one would think Republicans are dead and buried and we're on the cusp of many years of Democratic rule.

Despite this wishful thinking, there actually are some early but definite signs that while people may like Obama personally, they are increasingly concerned by his policy decisions, and that while they wanted to give him a chance, they are starting to put up a stop sign on the road towards the cliff of liberal policies that Obama and his allies in Congress are taking us toward.

So, why now? Why the recent drop? Here is our feeling:

1. Health Care. In the past couple weeks, there has been a ramp up on health care, including talk about tax increases, government takeovers, and a rush to get it passed this summer. The public is quite cautious about this. Rasmussen shows the public is evenly divided on whether we should even pursue health care reform at all right now -- 44 to 43 say we shouldn't, and that doesn't mean the 43% who say we should are in favor of Obama's plan. Health Care Reform means different things to different people.

2. Foreign Policy. In the past week, we've had North Korea threatning to send a missile flying towards Hawaii around July 4 and a consensus view that Obama's response has not been firm enough there. In Iran, we've had huge rallies for freedom -- all leading up to a possible revolution -- yet Obama has been terribly silent. In short, we've had a Jimmy Carter type of response during a period of time when the nation needed a Ronald Reagan type of voice. Why Obama has chosen the weak route is unclear, but he has -- we think it has something to do with the fact that siding with the revolutionists in Iran would essentially be admitting that George W. Bush's strategy of promoting freedom around the world was a sound one -- that even though the U.S. may not be popular, the fact is that people still admire our freedom and freedom itself is a basic desire of humans -- and that promoting it in the Middle East in places like Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan is the ultimate way to win the war on terror.

So, rather than standing up to the regimes of Iran and North Korea, Obama has appeared weak and, to add fuel to the "clueless on foreign policy wire", has been mired in a debate over what to do with terrorists at Gitmo, including what essentially amounts to a payoff to send a bunch of them to the nation of Palau -- not to mention that 3 or 4 of them were swimming in Bermuda, without notifying the British government. No state wants them in the U.S., so Obama is caught in between his crazy leftists supporters who think Gitmo is some kind of torture chamber and want all the the terrorists in the American Court System, and the realities of foreign policy which are a lot tougher than the rhetoric of a liberal presidential campaign.

The result is the American people have essentially -- as they always did -- sided with Bush and Cheney on the issue of terrorism, and Obama's ratings have dropped.

3. Americans Don't Want Socialism.. Americans are increasingly weary of Obama's steady move towards socialism. The fact the word is being tossed around so regularly by Republicans and people in general has begun to creep its way into the American political lexicon, and no matter what the media will try to to squash it, the evidence is too clear to deny or hide -- trillions of dollars of goverment spending, buying out the auto industry, the huge steps on executive pay, running private companies -- plus threatning to take over the health care industry -- is frightening Americans. They don't want the debt burden and they didn't sign up for socialisim when they voted for Obama. This is causing, in our eyes, a backlash -- and Americans are putting up the stop sign.

The question is -- will this trend continue or will Obama regain his previous high numbers? It's hard to tell, but historically presidents lose seats in their first midterm. Bush didn't, but Clinton did -- resulting in the dramatic Republican Revolution of 1994 which ushered in 12 years of Republican rule, not to mention things like tax cuts, welfare reform, etc. They subsequently blew it -- but the Democrats could easily hand it right back or at the very least, lose a lot of seats and therefore, making moving forward on their leftist agenda that much more difficult.

It's not just Obama either -- Democrats nationwide, from state to state, are having issues justifying their spending and taxing ways, given not only the state of the economy but state budgets. This opens up the door for Republicans who have a solid consistent conservative message and are willing to campaign on it.

And let's not forget, just last week a poll revealed that 40% of Americans identify themselves as conservative, while only 20% of the nation says they are liberals. Obama's problem is his party's base is from the 20% -- and that's where he has been governing from, by in large.

So, while the Republican brand may be temporairily suffering from years of saying one thing and doing another, the country is still larger conservative, having twice as many conservatives as liberals -- meaning it is a center-right country. Republicans have a much shorter hill to climb to get to 50% -- the key is campaigning on a conservative message that voters can reason with -- both a socially and a fiscally conservative one, so the 10% of "moderates" swing their way.

Simply put, Republicans, if they campaign as conservatives, have a lot to work with going into 2010. In an off year election like 2010, moderates may very well side with a conservative candidate, for the simple reason to give Obama a check and a balance. A true moderate voter will reject a President's policies who is governing from the 20% like they did in 1994, just as they would reject someone governing from the "very conservative" realm -- which was about 20% of the country.

And, there are signs that 2010 could be like 1994:

For 2009 races:
- In New York, which is increasingly solid blue, Democrats only held on to a seat they had just won (vacated by Gilliland becoming Senator) by just a few votes in a special election.
- In New Jersey, the Democrat Incumbent Jon Corzine is losing to his challenger, Chris Christie.
- In Virginia, Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a Republican, has pulled back ahead of the Democratic nominee, Creigh Deeds.

Both New Jersey and Virginia would be pickups in the Governor column. Count that +2 Republicans for the nation's Governors.

For 2010 races, starting with the Governorships:
- Here in Kansas, Democrats have mounted no serious challenger to Sam Brownback. Should this hold, this would be another pickup in the Governor Column, making it +3.

- In Oklahoma, Republicans have a strong possibility of picking up the Governorship, as the current Governor is term limited and the Republicans have recruited Congressman Mary Fallin to run. This solidly Republican state gave McCain his biggest margin anywhere in the country. This would make it +4 for Republicans in the Governor Column.

- In Tennessee, in which increasingly is one of the nation's most solid red states, Phil Bredesen is term limited. Republican Congressman Zach Wamp is running, as is Ron Ramsey, the Lt. Governor and State Senate Speaker. The R primary winner is favorted to win the election. Make that +5 Republicans.

- In Wyoming, incumbent Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal was initially thought to be term-limited. However, a recent Wyoming Supreme Court ruling invalidated legislative term limits and may have for the Governor as well, though that is unclear. If he fights the Executive Term Limit, he could run for re-election. If he does, he could very well hold the seat. If he chooses not to run or isn't allowed to run, the seat would likely go into Republican hands, with several candidates positioned to run. If this happens, +6 Republicans.

That's several pickups already and we've not even entered the states where Republicans would have also have a chance, including Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio (a new poll has Kasich only down 2), Maryland, Wisconsin, Colorado, etc. Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania are all possible and Illinois, Maryland, and Wisconsin are also possible depending who decides to run -- for example, if Tommy Thompson runs in Wisconsin, the polls are even.

Now, Republicans could give back a couple states -- most particularly Rhode Island and Hawaii, which are two of the most blue states in the nation anyway.

Point of all this is to say that in states that are red, Republicans stand a good chance of getting back the Governor's mansions, in some cases for the first time in a decade. In purple states, or even some blue states like New jersey and New York, they also are quite competitive. The new numbers in Ohio demonstrate that. The only states where the Democrats have a chance is in the most solidly blue. Also, keep in mind it is in the Governorships that Republicans saw their mid 90's surge, so it's a trend worth watching.

In terms of the U.S. Senate, Republicans also have a few openings, if they can do a good job of recruiting candidates. Connecticut (Simmons is challenging Dodd) and Pennsylvania (Toomeny is challenging Specter) are strong possibilities at the moment, as are Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Colorado, New York, Washington, Oregon, and others -- if the recruitment is solid. One positive consequence of Obama's sinking numbers is that previously unsure candidates may be convinced to run if they since a tide is under way.

Of course, the Republicans must also defend the states of Missouri (Kit bond), New Hamsphire (Judd Gregg), and Ohio (George Voinovich), where incumbents are all retiring, as well as Kentucky, where Jim Bunning's bizarre behavior may hurt his chances should he decide to run again.

So, all in all, Republican efforts in the Senate depend on recruitment and holding those four seats. Should they, even bringing the Democrats numbers down to 55 or 56 would be a huge victory -- and could deal a death blow to some of Obama's more liberal initiatives -- which is why he's trying to usher them through now.

The House side is a more complciated story, but there are increasingly possiblities all over the map. Republicans lost some long-held seats in the last couple cycles that they could gain back in a blowback against Obama. This remains to be seen.

Keep in mind, it is very early -- we are only halfway through 2009. In the next year, many more credible candidates could emerge, Obama's numbers could continue to drop, and his party's prospects -- particualrly in red states -- could sink. Voters could simply want that check and balance that doesn't currently exist, and that in itself could mean a pickup for Republicans in 2010.

How much of a pickup depends on Obama's popularity and also on the Republicans' message. Do they have one like they did in 1994, or is it just anti-Obama? A combination of the two, along with strong recruitment, could mean 2010 is a repeat. Republicans may not get back control of either house, but their gains could be significant.