Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is up by three points among all voters, but down by two points among likely voters. Michael Bennett looks to be narrowly leading among his constituents, but decisively losing among those who plan to actually cast ballots. Polls find Democratic upstart Joe Sestak either up by four or down by seven, depending on how many voters show up. Poll after poll finds the same result: Americans prefer to have Democrats in charge right now... they just don't plan to vote for them today.
With nearly a quarter of the House of Representatives in play, this gulf between registered voters and likely voters has never been so significant. A three or four point swing or pollster miscalculation in either direction moves projected results from continued (though slim) Democratic control of the House to an 80-seat Republican victory that it could very well take decades for Democrats to overcome.
Luckily for optimists on both sides, there is one group that trumps both registered and likely voters: Actual voters. Actual early voting numbers have been mixed and occasionally surprising. If I were a Democrat this morning (and it turns out I am), I would do everything in my power to make sure that every legal, registered voter I knew became an actual voter today.
I absolutely understand why independent or culturally-conservative Obama 2008 voters might want to sit this election out or vote for Republican candidates. The economy is still in shambles and the rather timid Obama administration has done little to address the immediate needs of the nation. I also firmly believe that is the height of foolishness for them to do so.
At first blush it seems hard to believe, but they have even more to lose under Republican control than Democrats. At least partisan Democrats will end up looking pretty good after two years of 90s-style government shutdowns and Republican grandstanding. All middle-of-the-road voters will get out of it is two more years of nothing. The new Republican majority will not suddenly come up with all those ideas they haven't put forward during the past two years. Nor will they suddenly become interested in bipartisanship. No, if recent history is any indication, they will simply make sure that the government comes to a halt while they ham their way to nothing, hoping to oust Obama in 2012 with some mysterious, electable candidate who will never materialize. (All the while, of course, they will be boosting Obama's popularity among independents.) But "undecided" voters are rare in midterm elections, which very often hinge on turnout.
What I have a most difficult time wrapping my head around is the purportedly sizable group of disaffected liberal Democrats who just don't feel like they've been given enough by the Obama administration to make another two years of government worth half an hour at their polling place.
I know, I know. There's a rather popular notion among some liberals that not voting is the new voting and that removing oneself from the political process somehow makes one morally superior. They dislike President Obama because he's too soft and doesn't get enough of what he wants. They loathe Speaker Pelosi because she's too hard and gets everything she wants. They'd rather write angry comments on blog posts than go out and vote. They want everything their way, gift-wrapped with a nice bow and the word "bipartisan" worked into the card, if at all possible.
Sadly, Santa Claus is not now, nor has he ever been, on the ballot.
Also unfortunate for Democrats is that this mindset is uniquely liberal. Republicans never come close to getting any of their biggest goals met, and still they vote. After decades of Republican control of Congress and the presidency, abortion is still legal, Social Security still exists, we still have a minimum wage and Big Bird is still brainwashing their children on the teevee box. All we ever seem to get out of Republican presidencies are floundering economies, ballooning national debt and wildly ironic lectures about how they are the party of economics and fiscal responsibility.
Could a sizable number of Democrats really have expected so much more from this government that they genuinely believe it is now better to just hand it back over to the Republicans? If you were convinced (to paraphrase Hillary Clinton) that Barack Obama's arms would spread and the heavens would open, your expectations were simply never rooted in reality. The Blue Dog Democrats serve at the leisure of constituents who reach for pitchforks every time they hear the name Obama. The president, though bizarrely embraced as some sort of lefty messiah in 2008, never at any point showed himself to be more than a corporate centrist with all the political cowardice and none of the insider know-how of more seasoned nominees past. I would humbly suggest that a center-left, sometimes amateurish government was all that anyone could have reasonably expected. If you were surprised that there was poison in the Kool-Aid, you probably shouldn't have joined the cult.
If you're a liberal who isn't voting because you feel like not enough has been done to advance the causes you care most about, I probably actually agree with you on those points. I agree that it is vitally important to continue to work toward truly universal health care in America and to end DOMA and DADT and the passage of ENDA are long-overdue moral imperatives and that energy reform is desperately needed for the future of this country. But that doesn't mean that it is anything short of idiotic to help Republicans capture Congress just to teach Democrats a lesson. Are we really to believe that losing to more conservative politicians is going to make Democrats more liberal?
I also don't think I need to remind you that allowing Democrats to lose control of the House of Representatives is the easiest way to make sure nothing we care about gets done for years -- maybe even decades, if some forecast models are right.
The Democratic agenda and quite probably the federal government will shut down as soon as Nancy Pelosi hands over the gavel (I write to Republican applause). When Harry "Couldn't get the votes" Reid and Barack "I'll just let Congress do its thing and check in when it's done" Obama wanted to scale back or scrap health-care reform, it was Pelosi who managed the Herculean feat of getting the Senate version of the health-care bill through the House, word for word. While the Senate struggled for years to make the most modest advances, Pelosi passed every piece of her 100-hour plan with 13 hours to spare. Love her or hate her, at every step of the way it has been Pelosi, not Obama and certainly not Reid, who has driven Democratic accomplishment over the last two years.
"What accomplishments!" I hear some of those sit-at-home Democrats sneer. Well, if a health insurance overhaul half a century in the making, unprecedented consumer credit protections, historically low tax levels, a draw down of US forces in Iraq and Wall Street reform aren't a good enough start for you, what exactly would it take to get you to vote? A pony? A public flogging of Karl Rove?
Take two minutes to seriously consider what would have been accomplished by this country during the last two years if Republicans had been in control. Really think it through. If Republicans had had their way, four million more low-income children would be without health insurance and the ones lucky enough to afford it could still be refused care for preexisting conditions. If Republicans had their way, millions (if not billions) of future Americans would suffer economic ruin and/or go without health care entirely if they happened to commit the criminal offense of becoming ill. If Republicans had had their way, the toughest financial reforms since the Great Depression would never have been enacted. If Republicans had had their way, we may well have found ourselves in a depression so great we'd have to give "the economic downturn of 1929" a new name.
In 2010, we simply cannot afford the delusion that we are somehow teaching the Democrats a lesson by not voting. Moreover: Elections are for deciding who runs the government, not who needs a little spanking.
So, please, Democrats: Vote. In fact, don't just vote and call it a night. Voting isn't quite enough this time. Call up a few friends who might be sitting this one out and make sure they made it to the polls. Drive people to the polls if you can. Volunteer, if you are able, at your local campaign HQ -- I'm sure they'll be glad to put you to work. Call up some other friends who you know will be voting and make sure they're doing the same. Strongly urge your moderate and independent friends who are occasional voters to come out as well. They probably won't be voting for sideshow attractions like Sharron Angle.
Ask your more hesitant friends (more politely than I phrase it here): Would you rather go to the polls and keep Republicans out of power, or sit at home and feel smug?
If Democratic voters can be bothered to show up, they could very well keep control of the House. If they don't, they're unlikely to see it back within their grasp for a very, very long time.