Nebraska senator Ben Nelson’s recent announcement that he is retiring is further bad news for Democrats. After the disastrous 2010 midterms, the GOP’s pickup in NY-9, GOP gains in November’s local elections, and declining nationwide Democratic voter registration, the operative narrative should be impending electoral disaster for Democrats in November. Yet one critical dynamic absent from the political discussion is the possible up-ticket effect of these and other realities on the upcoming presidential election.
It’s common practice to note the “down-ticket” effect of presidential elections, i.e. whether the congressional and senatorial candidates will be able to ride the coat tails of the party’s presidential nominee to electoral victory. In 2004 and 2008, Bush 43 and Obama won the White House, and, as a result of effective, tech savvy presidential campaigns whose technology, e.g. micro-targeting, inured to the benefit of down-ticket candidates, each increased his party’s congressional representation at the same time. Now, however, a bottom-up, or up-ticket dynamic, may determine the election’s outcome. Democratic policies have produced painful local effects, and voters are poised to respond in kind, regardless of their enthusiasm for the Republican nominee. Here’s why.
First, the Tea Party’s animating impulse – outrage over big government overreach – remains, undiminished. Despite the media’s incessant focus on Occupy Wall Street, that unwashed band of unkempt misfits will not alter the political landscape in 2012 like the Tea Party did in 2010 because it did not connect with regular, working Americans or articulate a coherent political philosophy. And while Occupy fades into obscurity, the Tea Party is still motivated and looking to pick a fight with anything that smacks of big government. If anyone doubts this, witness the House-Senate spat over the payroll tax cut. The eighty-something House freshmen with Tea Party allegiance still command attention and wield influence. This will not change.
Second, the economy remains in the doldrums and voters believe the country is on the wrong track. The post-stimulus unemployment rate – including those who have given up looking for work – is over 9%, President Obama now admits there is no such thing as a shovel ready project, housing is on the verge of another collapse, and credit is still tight. After giving Mr. Obama the benefit of the doubt on the economy for almost three years, in the wake of the failed stimulus and his robbing from Peter to pay Paul tax policy, 70 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. This majority rightly believes the president’s policies have failed; they are ready for a change they can believe in.