Democrats Prepare for 2010 Midterm Storm

03/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Republicans still seem downright giddy from their improbable come from behind win in the Massachusetts special election on Tuesday, a state which is sending its first Republican senator to Washington since 1972.

In fact, not since Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge narrowly defeated seven-time Boston mayor, John F. ``Honey Fitz'' Fitzgerald for the U.S. Senate in 1916 have the Republicans been so drunk with joy in the Bay state.

So when Scott Brown gassed up his green pick-up truck and proceeded onto Interstate 90 (Massachusetts Turnpike) in route to the nation's capital, the Obama administration knew they had to switch gears in a hurry and reconnect with a wide swath of frustrated independent voters at odds with what's going on in Washington.

On Thursday, for example, President Obama, hoping undoubtedly to tap into voter discontent over the administration perceived pandering to Wall Street, announced new restraints on the size and trading activities of U.S. banks.

``If these folks want a fight, Mr. Obama said from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, it's a fight I'm ready to have,"

So begins chapter one of a new book of the White House's plans to win back the hearts and souls of the nearly 70 million voters who elected Obama to improve a battered economy and bring to a screeching halt the business as usual mood that was poisoning Washington during the Bush years.

After a year in office, a majority of voters, if the Senate election in Massachusetts is any guide, think the economy has gotten short shrift at the expense of Mr. Obama's (win at all costs) determination to cement his legacy by becoming the first U.S. president to pass a comprehensive health care bill.

Most irksome to voters has been the lack of transparency with how the bill was being advanced without hearings on C-Span (transparency and openness, remember, were themes Obama campaigned on) with backroom deals cooked up for the Cornhusker state and the labor unions in exchange for their support of the health care bill.

If voters from the second most liberal state in the nation, could elect a Republican Senator, (as they did Tuesday) could you imagine what this portends for Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections?

Only three times since 1862, did the President's party gain seats during midterm elections; that was in 1934, 1982, and 1998.

In Colorado, Wisconsin, Florida, and Ohio, where there are more moderate and conservative leaning voters, Senate and gubernatorial races will be held; not a good sign for the White House during a down economy, Americans struggling to pay their mortgages, and unemployment still at record highs.

It's becoming clearer by the day that if the White House wants to prevent a bloodbath in the upcoming midterm elections, they need to pivot away from health care and respond to what Americans need the most: jobs.

On Thursday, the Democratic Caucus strategizing on what lies ahead now that they have lost the 60th critical vote that would have secured passage of the health care bill, have concluded that a comprehensive bill is beyond their grasp; leaving them with few options other than to pass legislation with a new scaled down approach, involving passing incremental measures; a change of direction which President Obama has hinted he's in agreement with.

The Massachusetts stunner, which gave the Republicans Ted Kennedy's seat, might be the wake up call that Democrats needed all along to pick themselves up off the canvas and start attacking this weak economy and putting Americans back to work before it's too late.

How the Democratic controlled Congress responds to the cries of the American public in the coming months ahead will largely determine their fate in November.

The White House will be working especially hard to advance a revised domestic agenda that hopes to prevent what happened during the catastrophic 1994 mid-term elections, which gave Republicans control over both the House and Senate for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration. All told, Democrats lost 54 House seats and another eight in the Senate, seven governorships, and nearly one in five state legislative assemblies that year. Worse still for the Democrats, House Speaker Newt Gingrich was selected Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1995.

Republicans are well aware what can happen if the party doesn't live up to the expectations and standards of the voting public.

In 1876, voters lost patience with the Ulysses Grant administration and its chronic scandals and charges of corruption, including the economic depression (triggered in 1873), which led Democrats to chant ``Turn the Rascals Out'' a popular slogan that paid big dividends during the 1874 midterm elections, which saw the Republicans lose 96 seats in the House; and eight in the Senate.

The Watergate Era probably was the most damaging to party morale, when Republicans lost 48 seats in House and five in the Senate. Of the 91 new House members of the 94th Congress in 1974, 74 were Democrats, 36 of whom defeated incumbent Republicans. So called the ``Watergate Babies'', this was a new breed of politicians who came to Washington promising to bring reform and restore America's faith again in politics. The class of 74, by the way, included: Chris Dodd, Max Baucus, John Glenn, Gary Hart, and Patrick Leahy.

So does Scott Brown represent what the Republicans hope is the beginning of a new breed of politicians with a reform-minded spirit and uphold what the senator-elect promised, when he shouted to a throng of jubilant supporters during his victory speech in Massachusetts, that ``We are witnesses, you and I, to the truth that ideals, hard work, and strength of heart can overcome any political machine.''

Or does the White House and the 111th Democratic Congress heed the voters call and end their shady backroom deals and start addressing ways to put Americans back to work in enough time to prevent another Republican ascendancy?

The clock is ticking.

-Bill Lucey


Significant Midterm Election losses for the President's Party:

• 1874: Republican President (Ulysses Grant): Republicans lost 96 seats in the House; eight in the Senate.
• 1894: Democratic President-(Grover Cleveland): Democrats lost 96 seats in the House and eight in the Senate.
• 1938: Democratic President (FDR): Democrats lost 72 House seats; seven in the Senate.
• 1946: Democratic President (Harry Truman); Democrats lost 55 House seats; 12 in the Senate.
• 1958: Republican President (Dwight Eisenhower); Republicans lost 48 House seats; 12 in the Senate.
• 1966: Democratic President (Lyndon Johnson): Democrats lost 48 House seats, four in the Senate.
• 1974: Republican President(s) (Richard Nixon/Gerald Ford): Republicans lost 48 House seats; four in the Senate.
• 1994: Democratic President (Bill Clinton): Democrats lost 54 House seats, eight in the Senate
• 2006: Republican President (George W. Bush): Republicans lost 30 House seats; six in the Senate.

Source: ``Vital Statistics on Congress 2008'' by Norman J.Ornstein, Thomas E. Mann, and Michael J. Malbin.