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April 4, 2009

Have Republicans hit bottom?

The power shift that ousted the Republicans and put Democrats in charge of Washington may be approaching a turning point. Evidence is still sketchy, but the trend that favored Democrats over the last five years may have run its course.

Remember that special election for a congressional seat from New York? The one that would be the first referendum on Barack Obama’s presidency and a make-or-break test for Republican national chairman Michael Steele?

It wound up a virtual tie, snuffing out attempts to exaggerate its significance. But the returns helped illustrate the changing political scene, almost half a year after the 2008 election.

First, this is still a divided country. Even in the age of Obama, a swing district, like that one in upstate New York, can still swing Republican.

Democrats carried it in the last two elections. But if the Democratic candidate manages to pull out a victory—a risky bet, with thousands of absentee ballots yet to be counted—it will be by a hair.

Nationally, opinion surveys differ on whether the key group in the middle—independents—is moving away from the Democrats. But the Democratic voter advantage seems to have stopped expanding.

Instead, there is growing agreement that disaffected Republicans are returning to their old party, now that the era of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove is over. That’s a necessary step in fashioning a turnaround that still seems a long way off.

“Republicans are in better shape now than we were in November or even January,” says Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster who conducts surveys for National Public Radio. “We’ve seen some modest movement for Republicans on party identification.”

That’s not to say that “suddenly, everything’s wonderful” for Republicans, he cautions. “It’s not like [voters] are in love with the Republicans.”

Second, bipartisanship turned out to be a mirage. Polarization is back.

In the weeks leading up to Obama’s inauguration, Americans were unusually optimistic that Democrats and Republicans would work together to solve the nation’s problems, polls showed. But that hasn’t happened.

The more partisanship flares up in Washington, the more it is likely to stoke populist outrage among voters. If bickering intensifies, it could further anger a public already fuming over taxpayer dollars used to bail out corporations.

Meantime, a new Pew Research Center analysis finds that Obama’s early job approval ratings are already the most polarized of any president in the past four decades.

“Republicans who were somewhat disposed to Obama in January and early February have moved away from him in pretty substantial numbers,” says Andrew Kohut, who directs the non-partisan Pew Center.

Third, Obama’s policies are less popular than he is, polls show.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who chairs the House Democratic campaign committee, says the fate of congressional Democrats and Obama “are very closely tied together.”

But with joblessness expected to run high for many months, the economy could hurt Democrats who must face voters next year, when Obama won’t be on the ballot. Increasingly, Democrats in Congress may see their choice coming down to either backing Obama’s ambitious and expensive agenda or saving their own necks.

“A lot of what we saw in 2008 was an Obama phenomenon,” says Steve Jarding, a Democratic campaign strategist. “The Democratic Party has to be very careful, because they’re living a little bit on a false pretense that somehow this Obama phenomenon reaches beyond Obama. You can’t just live on those coattails.”

Democrats can’t rely, either, on Republicans continuing to struggle for a message or a leader. “I remember the headlines when Jimmy Carter got elected,” about the Republicans being dead, he says. “Four years later, we had the Reagan revolution.”

Posted by Paul West at 8:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Michael Steele


Some corrupt people at the Justice Department had to lie and cheat to effect the election in Alaska. One more seat would have shut down the R side in the senate and they gave it their best.

Unfortunately they resorted to official misconduct WORSE than what they tried a Senator for. And it WILL continue under the fraud we have in the WH.

I was stunned to read to a Maryland Poltics Blog that didn't follow the usual theme of Republican evil, Ehrlich's to blame, Democratic good and Obama/O'Malley the savior then I saw the blogger wasn't David or Andy. If this keeps up some of us moderates (yes, I am a moderate) might actually consider subscribing to the Sun.

Jarding is wise to his ways. Politics tends to be very cyclical. Today's champions are tomorrow's losers. Plus it is always easier to criticize than it is to lead.

The NY race is an interesting case point. President Obama won the same area 4-5 months before by 3 points. Tedisco isn't a strong candidate and he is against a well-heeled opponent. It probably shows about a 5 point swing in favor of the Republicans. But that is 5 points of Republicans gaining back Republicans.

Look to 2010 to see a modest gain of 12-17 seats by the GOP in Congress, pickup of three gov's mansions and probably the status quo in the Senate. No groundswell either way, but that will be 2012/2014 and the full switch will come around 2016 where Republicans will be back at the helm. Which, coinicidentally, will be 10 years after they switched with the Democrats and then about 20 (22 to be exact) after they switched control of Congress with the Dems. It's cyclical.

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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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