Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- If you were hoping for a repeat of those town hall meetings last summer where Democrats were confronted by angry voters who opposed President Obama's health care bill, well, forget it. They're cancelled.

Democrats passed government-run Obamacare, despite strong grassroots opposition in their states and districts, and now these so-called "public servants" are unwilling to go through the democratic ritual of having to listen to what dissatisfied voters think of them now.

Rush Limbaugh

Congressional Democrats can, and do, read the polls that show a majority of voters want the health care bill repealed, which is why America's town halls will be empty this summer. Furthermore, voters are even angrier now than they were last year, and being booed and publicly criticized in the congressional run up to the midterm elections won't look particularly good for the Democrats in the local news media in what is shaping up to be a tough political year for Obama and his party.

So before Democrats headed home for the Memorial Day recess last month, party leaders gave them some blunt advice: avoid free-for-all town hall gatherings and unscripted Q&A meetings. Instead, try holding meet-and-greet events in "controlled settings," like the local bank or credit union, businesses, community service centers, union halls and other special interest groups.

It didn't require a lot of convincing. House Democrats are avoiding town hall events like the plague, The New York Times reported under a headline that read, "Democrats Skip Town Halls to Avoid Voter Rage."

"If the time-honored tradition of the political meeting is not quite dead, it seems to be teetering closer to extinction. Of the 255 Democrats who make up the majority in the House, only a handful held town-hall-style forums in their districts" in recent weeks, the Times said.

Many Democrats are holding remote telephone conference calls that can reach thousands of constituents, while avoiding the anger and political complaints that end up on local nightly news shows or shown on YouTube.

In "Live Free Or Die" New Hampshire, where participatory town hall democracy is at the heart of self-government, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is thumbing her nose at the state's historic tradition.

Announcing that she would not hold any town hall meetings during the congressional recess, her campaign website ran this message: "No upcoming events scheduled. Please visit us again soon!"

Republicans, on the other hand, are attending open meetings in their districts to sharpen the political contrast with their Democratic opponents, who think they don't have to answer to anyone, least of all the people they serve.

But in the end, the voters will have the last word in this election and all of the top election analysts are forecasting a major defeat for the party in power.

The "macro picture still looks bleak for Democrats," says Amy Walter, senior Senate elections analyst at the Cook Political Report.

"Democrats are trailing or tied with Republicans on the generic ballot test. Meanwhile, polling continues to show that Republicans are more motivated to vote this fall than Democrats. And while President Obama's approval rating is hovering close to 50 percent, he's viewed unfavorably by independents," Walter said in her mid-year election review.

"Of the 10 seats most likely to turn over in The Hotline's latest Senate Race Rankings, nine are held by Democrats. At this point, we see a GOP pickup of six to eight seats," she said.

Could Republicans win 10 seats that would give them control of the Senate? To do that, Democrats would have to lose two of three seats that are seen as their firewall: Sen. Barbara Boxer, California; Russell Feingold, Wisconsin; and Patty Murray, Washington -- all of whom have seen their approval polls decline this year.

"That scenario seems unlikely today, but given the incredibly volatile -- and unpredictable -- cycle we've had thus far, it'd be foolish to dismiss it completely," Walter says.

Among the likely GOP pickups, none look more vulnerable than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. While the media herd thinks the GOP's nominee, "tea party" conservative Sharron Angle, gives Reid a 50-50 chance of squeaking through, his polls against Angle have been weak -- 38 percent to 40 percent -- for months.

"It will be difficult for Reid to make the election about Angle, whose demeanor doesn't seem scary to voters, than about Obama, the unpopular Congress, the economy and the Democratic agenda," writes veteran elections handicapper Stuart Rothenberg. "And that's why Harry Reid is still more likely than not to lose."

Here in Washington, the national news media has yet to come to grips with the Democrats' dilemma.

A poll conducted for National Public Radio by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and Republican pollster Glen Bolger shows that the Democrats have a severe message deficit. They tested messages from both parties on health care, the economy and financial reform in 70 of the most competitive congressional districts and found that the GOP message consistently registered more traction with voters.

Is it any wonder that the Democrats are hiding from the voters and refusing to hear their grievances face to face?


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.



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