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Dems Should Stay Cool About Midterms

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The midterm elections this November have spawned midyear panic, largely by Democrats. With their majorities in the Senate and House, Democrats have the most to lose. And historically, the president's party sheds congressional seats at this point in the electoral cycle.

But c'mon. Of what possible predictive use is a poll taken in December 2009 showing that Obama's not as popular as he was in January 2009? The midterms are 10 months from now.

No one could meet the expectations of the miracle man Obama ran as. Anyhow, the administration hasn't done that badly given the terrifying financial free fall of a year ago.

By November, an economic recovery may be further along. Boosting the American troop presence in Afghanistan will seem brilliant or not. A thousand other good and bad things will have happened to move public emotions one way or the other, or both ways at once. Numbers that go down can come up again.

Nonetheless, several Democrats from conservative districts have decided not to risk running again. And Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith has actually made the switch from Democrat to Republican. If fear for their political survival in an imagined Republican tsunami is these politicians' driving force, they've been watching too much Fox.

Consider Griffith. Many voters in Alabama's Fifth Congressional District may not care for the national Democratic Party, but that was true when Griffith was elected in 2008. Though his district votes for Republican presidents, it has never, ever sent a Republican to Congress.

And so what does Griffith have to offer as a Republican? He will be the same guy, only if he wins this time, he will (most probably) be in the congressional minority. His northern Alabama district, meanwhile, is home to quite a few white, as well as black, Democrats. The space flight center in Huntsville has attracted high-tech voters from everywhere. And the old timers recall how Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal picked the region off the floor during the Depression. Government has been good to Alabama's Fifth.

Looking to November, Republican leaders are now promising to overturn health care reform once they regain power. "When we get a majority," Newt Gingrich said on Sunday, "we're going to repeal the whole thing."

That could be almost as popular as Gingrich's idea in 1995 to shut down the federal government. Then Republican House speaker, Gingrich had apparently regarded his party's 1994 sweep of Congress as a mandate to hound President Bill Clinton at every opportunity.

The government-closing stunt helped contribute to Clinton's easy re-election in 1996, plus a Democratic gain of eight House seats. Two years later, Democrats picked up another five House seats, a rare midterm accomplishment for the party that held the presidency.

Note that the 1994 election trailed the defeat of the Democrats' health care reforms. The next election will follow their probable victory. Which brings us back to the curious Republican pledge to repeal them.

Yes, most Americans have told pollsters that they don't approve of the health care legislation. But an even greater percentage -- I guarantee you -- has little idea what's really in it. Furthermore, many of the disapprovers are not likely Republican voters, but liberals who felt that Democrats gave too much away.

Assuming that the reforms become reality, ordinary folk will have lots of time to ponder that America remains a capitalist country, while they will soon enjoy health care security. A vow to repeal a law that stops insurers from dropping your family the minute a member is diagnosed with cancer doesn't sound like a winning strategy to me.

Ignore the polls-du-jour. Democrats could lose big on Nov. 2, 2010. Or, perhaps they won't.

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