Feature

The Republican wave heads for Washington

Republicans poured new resources into House and Senate races the Democrats once considered safe; Democrats engaged in political triage and channeled their energies into campaigns they still have a chance to win.

What happened Riding a wave of voter discontent, Republicans this week poured new resources into House and Senate races the Democrats once considered safe, as Democrats engaged in political triage and channeled their funding and manpower into campaigns they still have a chance to win. Republicans, benefiting from a highly motivated conservative base and more than $100 million in spending by allied groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hoped to reshape the electoral map and forge a new congressional majority. In a last-ditch effort to close the “enthusiasm gap,” President Obama campaigned in states he won in 2008, seeking to motivate the Democratic base—youth, women, and African-Americans—to vote Nov. 2. “We can’t let this country fall backwards because the rest of us didn’t care to fight,” Obama said in a radio ad released this week. But the party had to send out former President Bill Clinton to campaign in more conservative states, where Obama is very unpopular.

Most pollsters anticipate a shift to Republican control of the House of Representatives similar in scale to 1994, when Republicans picked up 54 House seats and eight in the Senate, taking control of Congress during President Bill Clinton’s first term. Despite a fierce Democratic counteroffensive in recent weeks, said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, polls show that “the dynamics haven’t changed.” Historically, control of the Senate has shifted with changes in the House, but with Tea Party–backed GOP Senate candidates struggling in several states, the hurdle to a GOP Senate majority appears high.

What the editorials saidVoters are understandably angry about the bad economy, but they “can’t afford to be deluded by promises of easy fixes,” said Newsday. Some Republicans are offering “simplistic, ideological bromides,” promising that more tax cuts and less regulation “will magically create jobs.” But such magical thinking is precisely what produced the Great Recession. Complex problems cry out for realistic solutions: “Rants just won’t do.”

In other words, beware the “ignorant mass of angry, misinformed troglodytes,” said The Washington Times. According to liberals, anyone outraged by the Democrats’ “failed experiment in governance” must be a deluded half-wit. “If there’s one thing that progressives can never admit to themselves, it’s their own unpopularity.”

What the columnists saidThe Senate is within the GOP’s grasp, said Steve Kornacki in Salon.com. “But that’s before you consider the Tea Party effect.” In Kentucky, Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, and Delaware, the GOP has “ticking time bomb candidates” such as Rand Paul, Christine O’Donnell, Joe Miller, and Sharron Angle, whose “odd backgrounds, extreme views, and penchant for polarizing rhetoric” have transformed electoral cakewalks into fierce competitions. If Democrats hold the Senate, it’ll be because swing voters couldn’t stomach the tea.

This election is a referendum on Washington, not the Tea Party, said Rich Lowry in National Review. And since Democrats have “the White House, 59 Senate seats, and 255 House seats,” they are Washington. That’s what makes Obama’s “closing argument” to voters so offensive, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. He recently told a group of Democratic donors that one reason “facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared.” Translation: Americans’ “fears of massive debt and intrusive government are irrational.” It’s precisely this arrogant dismissal of the public’s intelligence—and, yes, their fears—that has isolated Obama from the people, making “Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry look like prairie populists by comparison.”

But once they’re elected, what will Republicans actually do? said David M. Herszenhorn in The New York Times. In virtual unison, GOP candidates bemoan “runaway federal spending.” But they are equally united in avoiding mention of specific spending cuts. When they were last in power, Republicans racked up deficits that far exceed “the combined costs of the bailout, the stimulus, and the health-care law” under Obama. This time, they insist, they will be different. They’re just not willing to say how.

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