Wait: I've seen this movie before.
At the end of July 2006, I remember being... fairly optimistic about the Congressional elections. Oh, I knew that there were going to be problems. It was year Six of a Presidential administration, and the Other Side was kind of fired up. And, sure, the economy was slowing down a bit - we were all the way down to 5% growth that quarter! - but at least unemployment was ticking along at less than 5%. It would have been better if it had been at 4%, but we were still dealing with the remains of the 9/11 disruption. And, yes, the problems down in the Gulf were going to have an impact, and there were scandals in Congress. You had to expect losses in an off year. Still, the idea that we were going to lose both Houses? Maybe we'd come close to losing one - but the national election committees were flush with cash, they were on top of the situation, and it was their jobs on the line. Surely we wouldn't lose either branch of Congress; no way we could lose both.
Does all of this sound familiar? - Because it sounds familiar to Michael Barone, too. He notes the problems that Democrats are facing with the generic ballot right now, but he also notes another warning sign: incumbents trailing in polls.
In 1994, I wrote an article in U.S. News & World Report arguing that there was a serious chance that Republicans could capture the 40 seats that they needed then, as now, for a majority in the House. It was the first mainstream media piece suggesting that, and it appeared on the newsstands on July 11.
I cited as evidence five polls showing incumbent Democratic congressmen trailing Republican challengers. None of those Democrats had scandal problems; all five lost in November.
Today, a lot more Democratic incumbents seem to be trailing Republican challengers in polls. Jim Geraghty of National Review Online has compiled a list of 13 Democratic incumbents trailing in polls released over the last seven weeks.
Barone points out that the Democratic incumbents in trouble are not the Rangels and Graysons of the 111th Congress: they're largely "personally attractive, hardworking and ethically unsullied." In a normal year they wouldn't be in trouble; then again, this isn't a normal election year. It's a year where a bad economy has combined with legislative overreach and executive fecklessness to create a toxic environment to anybody in the House of Representatives who can be fairly portrayed as not listening to his or her constituents. At this point, that's most of the Democratic House caucus, and almost none of the Republican... which is why there are precisely two Republican House seats where the Democrats have betting odds of taking, and they're both special cases anyway.
But no, no, no: the Democrats will muddle through, somehow. They think that they're on the right side of history, they have lots of money to spend, the President will swoop in to save the ones who need the help most, they've always known that this is an off-year election and they won't get surprised like they did in 1994, the Republicans won't capitalize on the chance because we never do and we might as well give up now...
Yeah, I definitely saw this movie before. I have to say, it's a lot more fun to watch when it's not happening to you.
Crossposted to Moe Lane.