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An Optimistic Democrat's Guide to 2010

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It's been a pretty amazing week for Democrats. And for those looking for more good news, there is plenty to be had on the horizon. Democrats are still facing an uphill battle in November; without a miraculous economic recovery or a deafening Republican scandal, Democrats are almost sure to lose at least 15 seats in the House and at least a couple in the Senate.

That's the best case scenario. The worst case is that they lose upwards of 30 house seats and as many as 8 senate seats. The difference between the two is stark. If the losses are on the lower range, the president will still have a good chance of seeing his agenda through in 2011 and 2012. But on the higher range, his entire legislative portfolio will almost surely come to a halt.

The difference matters. And with that in mind, there are some exciting things happening now that should give Democrats plenty of reason to feel optimistic.

Health Care: "A Big Fucking Deal"
At this point it's unclear whether the health care bill itself will be of value to the Democrats in November. A recent USA Today poll had Americans favoring the bill 49-40. But those numbers have yet to be reconfirmed by another poll. If Democrats (and the media) turn out to be better at explaining the health care law than they were at explaining the health care bill, the package has the potential to gain in popularity, perhaps even in the short term. That would, of course, have substantial implications for the outcome of the November elections. But even if health care reform's contents continue to get mixed reviews from the public, its passage still offers plenty of political value to Democrats this year.

Had Martha Coakley won her race, had the bill passed in January instead of March, it would have done so at a time when the Democratic party was deeply divided. Howard Dean was repeatedly calling for the Senate bill to be killed. So were Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz. So were Markos Moulitsas and MoveOn.org. Had the bill passed in January, it would have done so without the support of large portions of the American left.

But after spending eight weeks convinced that Democrats had failed, that the health care bill, however imperfect, was dead, the left rejoined the effort aggressively. The bill's ultimate victory was aided by liberal groups funding extensive ad campaigns and organizing to pressure wavering Democrats. By mid-March, 83% of MoveOn.org members favored the bill.

In December, MoveOn.org called for the bill to be killed. By March, they were fighting for it to be saved.

The end of the health care battle unified the Democratic base once again, and in success, it energized it.

And it did more than that. It proved that the mission of the Obama campaign could be accomplished through the Obama presidency. It proved that change can happen in Washington even when Washington is at its worst. At a time when Democratic candidates are struggling, the party just had its proudest victory since 1965.

Job Growth on the March
A new Bloomberg poll found that nearly two out of three Americans believe that the economy got worse over the last year. It's actually gotten much better. As the Bloomberg article notes, "During that period, a bull market has driven up the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 Index more than 73 percent since its low on March 9, 2009. The economy grew at a 5.9 percent annual pace during last year's fourth quarter."

The recovery is happening, but the most easily translatable measure -- job creation -- has characteristically lagged behind. This month may very well be the end of that trend. The economy lost 36,000 jobs in February, but many economists have speculated that if not for the major snowstorms that battered the East Coast, the country would have experienced positive job growth that month.

What didn't happen for February may very well happen for March.

At some point soon, the country is going to start experiencing six-figure job growth month after month after month. Until that happens, the public is likely to continue to feel pessimistic about the economy. But when it does finally happen -- as it may this month -- it could change the public's perception entirely.

What's Good for the Tea Party is Good for the ... Democratic Party?
Harry Reid is supposed to lose his reelection. He's been spending enormous sums of money advertising his accomplishments back home in Nevada, and in return, his standing in the polls has gotten worse, not better. He has a favorability rating worth retiring over.

But now it appears that the Tea Party has qualified for the Nevada ballot, and that a Tea Party challenger might change the outcome of the race. A recent Rasmussen survey found Reid trailing both of his potential Republican opponents by 13 points. But when you add a Tea Party candidate into the mix, everything changes. Reid goes from down 13 to up 4, with the Tea Party candidate taking 18% away from the Republican.

All around the country, in congressional districts that don't get the kind of national media attention one would expect from a Nevada Senate race, Republican candidates are under siege from within their own ranks. In some cases, that will result in far-right candidates getting nominated in districts too moderate for a Tea Party ideology. In others, it will result in third party challenges, in Tea Party candidates stealing votes away from the Republican nominee during the general election. In either circumstance, Democrats benefit.

The same force that has energized the Republican party will almost certainly be responsible for holding it back.

Republican Leadership Has Gone MIA
As retribution for the passage of health care reform, Senate Republicans have decided they aren't going to work past 2:00pm. They've announced it. They've even found an obscure Senate rule that makes it binding. It sounds made up. It isn't.

It's one thing to obstruct policy. But this is obstruction without reason. Obstruction without purpose. This is not going to go over well with the public in 30 second ads.

In other news, Tea Party protesters called John Lewis a "nigger." They called Barney Frank a "faggot." They spat on Emanuel Cleaver. They tried to cut the gas line at Tom Perriello's house -- and cut his brother's line instead. They sent faxes of nooses to Jim Clyburn and Bart Stupak. They placed a coffin on Russ Carnahan's lawn. Ten Democratic members of Congress have had to get increased security.

You'd think that the Republican party would be falling all over itself to disavow these kinds of tactics. You'd think the Republican leadership would be smart enough to see how dangerous it can be to be affiliated with this kind of violence.

But they are nowhere to be found. Instead of denouncing the Tea Party, they are still trying to co-opt it.

Just because Democrats control Congress and the White House doesn't mean the Republican party is somehow impervious to public opinion. Already, a new Democracy Corps poll found that Republican favorability among independents has dropped 11 points. It's dropped 12 points on the generic congressional ballot.

If that trend continues, the conventional wisdom about November's outcome will be completely upended.

The 2010 Obama Agenda
The Democrats have put forward an ambitious agenda for 2010. New financial regulations, a major overhaul of education policy, immigration reform, and a comprehensive energy policy.

With so many issues moving forward at once, it's going to be more difficult for Republicans to demonize each piece of legislation as effectively as they were able to when health care was moving forward alone. And with each issue, the GOP faces serious potential pitfalls if they choose to obstruct and oppose.

The Republican party is going to have a very difficult time explaining their opposition to financial reform to swing voters. They are going to have an even harder time explaining their opposition to immigration reform to a Hispanic voting bloc that they already may have lost for a generation.

If they vote against education reform, they'll be voting against policies they have advocated for years -- like bringing accountability to teacher performance. If they vote against energy policy, they'll be voting against other pet policies -- like new domestic drilling and new nuclear power plants.

If Republicans vote yes on any of these bills, they hand an enormous victory to the president and the Democratic party.

But if they vote no, they hand a bruising set of liabilities to themselves.

We don't know exactly how things will shape up seven months from now, but we do know this: The Democratic party has seen rock bottom. January and February were rock bottom. From here on out, almost everything facing Democrats is upside.

Now as they march toward November, they do so with momentum at their back, the kind that can only come from a genuinely big win.