Connecticut's Sen. Chris Dodd, seeking a sixth term, has an approval rating of 43 percent and has drawn several serious Republican challengers. Any incumbent with a job approval below 50 percent should worry; Nevada's Harry Reid's is below 40.
Three seats held by Republicans are currently in jeopardy -- Missouri's (Kit Bond is retiring), Ohio's (George Voinovich is retiring) and New Hampshire's (Judd Gregg is retiring). But Republicans have strong candidates in each state: In Missouri, Rep. Roy Blunt, former House Republican whip; in Ohio, Rob Portman, former congressman, head of the Office of Management and Budget, and trade representative; in New Hampshire, a possible nominee, former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, is currently leading her likely Democratic opponent.
Regarding House elections, substantial Republican gains are possible. As analyst Charles Cook notes, 84 House Democrats represent districts that were carried either by George W. Bush in 2004 or John McCain in 2008, and 48 of those districts were carried by both Bush and McCain. These and other uneasy incumbents know that Congress' job approval is 22 percent.
Much can change, nationally and locally, before Nov. 2, 2010. But perhaps the most politically salient thing is unlikely to change: high unemployment. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the economy, which has lost 7.2 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, must create 100,000 a month just to match population growth. Joseph Seneca, a Rutgers economist, estimates that even if job creation were immediately to reach the pace of the 1990s -- an average of 2.15 million private-sector jobs were added each year, double the pace of 2001-2007 -- the unemployment rate would not fall to 5 percent until 2017.
September's 9.8 percent unemployment rate was the worst since June 1983. But robust growth began then and just 17 months later Ronald Reagan came within 3,800 Minnesota votes of carrying all 50 states. Reagan, however, was reducing government's burdens -- taxes, regulations -- on the economy. Obama is increasing them.
The possibility of Republican gains, especially in the Senate, helps explain why Obama is in such a rush to remake the nation and save the planet. His window of opportunity could be closing.