How Democrats Can Win 2010 Elections — Step Four: Concentrate on the House

by Sheri Rivlin and Allan Rivlin on September 29, 2010

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As Congress enters its final days before adjourning for full time campaigning, the outlines of the substantive differences between the parties is set.  The Democrats have passed a series of small bills aimed towards job creation but they were not able to pass their changes to the Bush tax cuts before the election.  This is good news because even though Democrats believe they have a tactical advantage on taxesright now, strategically speaking, Democrats do not win elections by debating the topic of taxes, any more than Republicans win elections by talking about health care.

The Republicans finally answered the critics that were challenging them to produce some new ideas with bold proposals to move forward by going back to George W. Bush’s government spending levels and making George W. Bush tax cuts permanent.  At least they are offering voters a clear choice. Republicans believe they are going to win this election by making it about national issues.  But at the same time just a few Democratic leaders, strategists, and pundits are starting to buck conventional wisdom to suggest Democrats can win the 2010 election by nationalizing the issues.

But the real reason Democrats need to leave Washington and go home to campaign is because Democrats only win elections when moderates and progressives come together as they did in 2008.  But the past two years have highlighted the degree to which legislating and coming together at the same time has proven to be a challenge for Democrats.   Perhaps we can make it work on the campaign trail.

Here we continue our series: How Democrats Can Win 2010 Elections by adding step 4.

Steps 1-3 can be found here.

Step 4:  Concentrate on the House of Representatives

Retaining the House is really the whole ball game in determining whether the new direction offered by President Obama and the Democrats will be ratified or reversed. If Democrats retain control of the U. S. House of Representatives even by one seat, they almost certainly “win” the 2010 election.  The Republicans have committed a strategic error by letting their ambitions set their definition of success unnecessarily high.  They have been talking about regaining control of both houses of Congress so long that they will have achieved a draw if they win just one of them and will certainly have “lost” the election if the votes are counted and Democrats control both chambers on Capitol Hill.

The Republicans’ chances of winning control of the Senate declined dramatically in the final round of primaries when Tea Party Candidate Christine O’Donnell defeated former Governor, Rep. Mike Castle in the Delaware Senate Republican Primary.  Now Republicans need to win most of the too-close-to-call races on the board to win control of the Senate.  The chances of this are low, and would almost certainly not happen if the environment is such that the House of Representatives stays Democratic.

Holding on to the House is a tall order to be sure, but it is important to understand that if Democrats retain control of the House and Senate by the slimmest of margins in each chamber, they will have won the night. They may have lost 8 or 9 Senate races and lost over 35 House seats, and been clobbered in Governors races from coast to coast in advance of a redistricting year, but they will have won this election.  After electing a Democratic President and putting Democrats in control of the House and Senate in the elections of 2006 and 2008, the voters will have re-elected Democrats to control both chambers in 2010.  That is a vote to continue the change Democrats promised in 2008, not reverse course.

Of course it will be hell trying to govern in 2011, but that is pretty much a given.


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