Triage is the procedure by which medical personnel screening people injured in combat or disasters separate those who can be saved from those who can't. The first group are given immediate surgery in hopes of recovery. The second are given painkillers to make the end bearable.
So it was a startling to read last weekend in the New York Times that House Democratic leaders "are preparing a brutal triage of their own members in hopes of saving enough seats to keep a slim grip on the majority."
House Democratic campaign Chairman Chris Van Hollen quickly pooh-poohed the story, as any politically savvy person would. But I bet he's already done his triage and that some of the names mentioned in the Times story are to get painkillers only.
For in the last week, the bad news has been flooding in on congressional Democrats. On the generic-ballot question, the RealClearPolitics.com average of recent polls showed that 49 percent said they would vote for the Republican candidate for the House and 41 percent said they would vote for the Democrat.
To put these results in perspective, consider that before last month, Gallup had never shown Republicans leading by more than 6 percent since it began asking the question in 1942. Now they lead by as much as 13 percent in some polls.
And consider also that the generic-ballot question has tended to underpredict actual Republican performance in five of the last six House elections.
Republicans need to gain 39 seats for a House majority. The professional analysts see it happening: Larry Sabato puts the number at 47, Stuart Rothenberg at 37 to 42, Charlie Cook at 40. Cook notes that Democratic incumbents are trailing Republican challengers in polls in 32 districts.
These are cautious prognosticators who evaluate candidates for every seat. No wonder Politico's Mike Allen wrote yesterday that "the sky is falling" for the Democrats.
The signs are that Democratic candidates are getting the same message in their polls. Joe Donnelly in Indiana 2 runs an ad criticizing Barack Obama. Travis Childers in Mississippi 1 boasts of voting against the budget. Steve Driehaus in Ohio 1 runs a spot identifying his opponent as a congressman, even though he's really an ex-congressman, while positioning himself as the challenger.
At least five House Democrats are running ads bragging about their votes against Obamacare. Surveys of ads run by candidates indicate that no Democrat has run an ad bragging about the health care bill since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did in April. More recently he's been concentrating on depicting his opponent Sharron Angle as a wacko.