Democratic Upswing

In recent weeks, one of the few pundits who has had positive things to say about the Democrats' midterm-election campaign is NDN President Simon Rosenberg. In blog posts and TV appearances, Rosenberg has identified trends in public-opinion polling that show Democrats making gains and Republicans unable to expand their electorate.

TAP spoke with Rosenberg on the phone about what the Democrats are doing right -- and wrong, what to expect in the final month before the vote, and why, despite what you've heard, this isn't a wave election.

I can't help but notice in the last couple of weeks you've been a bit prescient?

Or a bit aggressive, I'm not sure...

... about how the generic ballot is tightening. You think the Republicans peaked too early. How do you think they missed the mark?

We have to remember this has been a remarkably volatile and unpredictable election cycle, so people shouldn't be surprised that this remarkable and unpredictable election cycle had one more unpredictable and volatile trick left up its sleeve.

Democrats, in order to improve their position, needed to reclaim voters they already had, which is a lot easier than reclaiming voters that have never been with you. They had this large pool of people that had voted for them in both '06 and '08. It wasn't just Obama's 53 [percent in 2008]; the Democrats got 52 percent in 2006, right? It was our advocacy that if the Democrats spent a lot of money speaking to their base and re-engaging their core supporters, and the president drove this very stark contrast and reminded the country that the Republicans had screwed everything up and the Democrats had done a pretty good job at putting things back together, that there was a chance to substantially improve their numbers.

You've got trend lines where one party is dropping and one party is gaining -- it's indisputable at this point. If you're a Republican right now, and you look at this environment, the party that's dropping a month out usually loses. If you're a candidate or a political party in a close election and you're dropping a month out, and the other guy's rising, you usually lose, because those dynamics are very hard to adjust.

Where was the tipping point?

Republican efforts to create an agenda were sloppy and showed the Republicans weren't ready to govern. The whole effort of [House Minority Leader John] Boehner's economic speech in Ohio, up through the recent pledge, really defined the Republicans as being a political party not ready for prime time. It gave the Democrats a more appropriate contrast to remind the public about a political party that had not really reconstructed itself. If the Republicans made a fundamentally different offering, the way [Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron] had in Britain, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation right now. But they doubled down on a political philosophy and an economic philosophy that did grave damage to the national interest when they were last in power. ... If you look at the Gallup poll from two weeks ago, they asked a question: "Who do you blame for what went wrong with the economy?" Seventy percent of the country still blames Bush and the Republicans.

We know the election has shifted. There's been a four- to six-point shift toward the Democrats. Do those trends continue? Do the Democrats pick up another four to  six points this month? The most reasonable scenario now of what happens in the next month is that the Democrats claim another three to six points and end up either even in the generic or slightly ahead, and certainly ahead in the non-Southern parts of the country.

Is this what you mean when you talk about this new dynamic?

If you were listening a month ago to all the pundits on television, the dynamic was the election was a wave election for the Republicans and the House was going to go and everything was baked in the cake. I sat there and listened for this three-day period on MSNBC, and I heard five different commentators use the term, "It's baked in the cake; the Democrats are dead." And that was the understanding of what was happening in this election a month ago.

Now the wave model has to be rejected and something else is happening. ... I'm not arguing that the Democrats are going to pick up seats. But this notion that the Democratic Party would have made a six- to seven-point gain in September defies so many historical understandings of what was going to happen in this election that the dramatic nature of what just took place, I think, is being incredibly understated by the media.

What is driving this change?

Democrats had a much more powerful closing argument than the other side that they just simply hadn't deployed. Obama is using an economic argument. Democrats are reclaiming ground that they shouldn't have lost in the first place because of their incredibly wobbly performance during 2010. ... Now that they're engaged, and now the reason I think Democrats are going to do OK (I'm not going to argue they're going to pick up seats, but I don't think this is going to be a wipeout), is that the Republican Party is still not offering solutions for the future, has incredibly unattractive leadership, is ideologically divided, has elected far too many fringe candidates, and is way over-reliant on outside plutocratic money, which I think in the long term is going to become really problematic for them, because if they win the majority, they will have won it based on the contribution of 50 to 100 really rich people, which is unsustainable for them as a political party in this Internet age.

The closer we get to the election, the more their numbers are dropping. And I don't think they know why, because I think they were already measuring the drapes. The Republican Party was psychologically unprepared for what's going on right now. It's amazing how silent the national Republicans are right now in the face of it, and the reason why is because every time Boehner or [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell go on television, it hurts them.

The core of the Republican offering is they will reduce the budget deficit and bring responsibility to Washington. And that is a lie. And Democrats need to call the lie.

Why is it hard for them to do that?

Part of what went wrong with the Democrats in the last two years is that too many Democrats have political Stockholm syndrome. Many Democrats grew up in an era with a conservative politics that was ascendant and center-left politics was in decline. What happened in 2008 was the conservative jailers left, and were defeated, the door to the ideological jail opened up, the sun was shining, the Democrats could leave, and they didn't leave.

What else can we look forward to in the final month of the election?

The other thing you're going to see is that, as the Republican ads go up on the air, it's going to motivate Democratic voters because it's going to remind the Democrats how much they hate the Republicans. The ability for the Democrats to label them bad Republicans -- just like those Republicans who hurt the country -- is not a difficult task in the next month. And I think that's Obama's job in the last weeks.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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