As I look forward to 2010 the obvious big political story of the year is going to be the outcome of the midterm elections in November. I thought it would be interesting to map the political landscape as it appears now to serve as a reference point to see just how much things have changed in eleven months. So what are the factors that will affect which party will be happy come November?
It's the Economy, Stupid. Right now, economic news continues to be depressing. Unemployment is high and the government continues to issue debt at a staggering and unprecedented rate. While a few have tried to claim the recovery is already underway it is hard to take them seriously after the economic indicators are reviewed. Obviously if this economy continues to struggle, so will incumbents and Democrats in leadership positions during the elections. If we see a measured recovery that will go a long way towards helping the Democratic party retain their majorities.
Everyone Loves Big Government. The last six months have seen a number of seemingly unpopular ideas pushed hard by Obama, Reid, and Pelosi, namely another stimulus, Obamacare, and Cap and Trade. The are some indications that suggest the Democratic leadership understands continuing to push such unpopular ideas would be political suicide. If Obama shifts focus to the job creation and the war on terror, the chances of a huge Republican sweep in November are going to be reduced. If instead ideas such as amnesty for all illegal aliens are made into the issue of the day then the elections could be brutal for the Democrats.
I Am Not A Virginian, But An American! The Boston Tea Party united Americans in their opposition of England. How significant of a roll will the new Tea Party movement play in this year's elections? Will it affect the choice of candidates by the Republican party, with a bias towards fiscal conservatives? Or will it cause a flurry of three-candidates races where the Democrats can take advantage of a split conservative vote? I think you can also throw the Sarah Palin Effect under this category. Is she going to use her influence to support good Republican candidates? Or is she going to go rogue and support a true third party?
Nuts! Will Obama channel that historic U.S. military attitude that victory is only acceptable outcome in Afghanistan or will he go the route of timelines, negotiations, and "strategic withdrawals"? He is actually in a tough place here. The country, as a whole, wants to see a tough stance on terrorism, especially in the light of the Christmas Underwear Bomber. A strong policy in Afghanistan would go a long way towards gaining Obama credibility in this area. On the other hand, there are significant numbers of people who voted for him on the anti-Bush-the-war-mongerer vote. Continued escalation in Afghanistan (and inclusion of places such as Yemen) would infuriate these supporters and could cause them to lose interest in supporting Democratic candidates come November.
Hope and Change. Never forget that Obama, regardless of what else you think of the man, is a good campaigner. Pundits on the right have gleefully been pointing out that the emperor has no clothes for months now. "His inexperience is showing!" "He's lost his political mojo." "He looks tired." "He's lost so-and-so and she was his biggest supporter!" But all these premature celebrations don't give Obama any credit for being able to change course. Hope and change worked on a country that was tired of Bush, weary of a prolonged war on terror, and reeling from a banking collapse. I am not politically savvy enough to be able to suggest what theme could help the Democrats in 2010, but you shouldn't count Obama out just yet. Campaigning is what he does best and helping the Democrats keep control of both houses is going to make or break his presidency. You can be assured he will pull out all the stops to help.
The above may seem obvious to you now but that is in a sense why I wrote this. This is indeed what seems obvious to us here in January. When we look back in November, what will have been missed? Will there be a tectonic event in the summer that shifts this landscape? Public opinion can be fickle. What seems like a sure thing now can change drastically over the course of a year. In November we will look back with the benefit of hindsight but for now things are much less clear.
Given all these factors, what are my predictions? I think it is a given that the Republicans will make significant gains in both the side of Congress. The opposition party historically does well in midterm elections and there are certainly some reasons to think the effect will be particularly strong this time. However, I think regaining control of either house is unlikely--Democrats made too many gains in 2006 and 2008 for it to reverse itself in one election cycle.
If you are so inclined, add your predictions in the comments. It will be fascinating, for me at least, to revisit them at the end of the year.