Salena Zito

And another one bites the dust. At least that’s what it must have felt like to Beltway Democrats in one 15-hour period last week.

In a series of leaks and press releases, a domino of Democrats announced they were dropping out of races or retiring: Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota retired, as did Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter; John Cherry, Michigan’s lieutenant governor also ended his gubernatorial bid.

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You’d think that would mean Democrats are in for a whole lot of hurt in a midterm election year, which are all about candidate retention, recruitment and defections.

So far this year Democrats have suffered one defection, some surprising retirements and a deficit in the recruitment department.

Typically, any combination of these becomes toxic for a political brand.

“To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the 2010 death of the Democratic Party are greatly exaggerated,” says Phil Singer, a Democratic political consultant and former spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 2006 midterm coup.

The loss of Dodd may be a plus for Dems. “Richard Blumenthal, the likely Democratic nominee, is pretty popular in Connecticut,” says Purdue University’s Bert Rockman.

And, to be honest, the Republican brand isn’t that swell either.

Still, Rockman warns, Democrats probably will lose more than anyone initially thought in the 2010 midterms.

As conventional wisdom points to losses in the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate and governors’ mansions, what can Democrats do to stop the political bleed?

Says a Democratic insider who was intimately part of the 2006 and 2008 national gains for his party: “I think the overarching message needs to be populist in nature and reaffirm to voters experiencing the greatest economic anxiety (that) ‘We hear you, and we aren't going to let corporate America” – such as big banks or credit-card companies – “exploit consumers after we just bailed them out.’ ”

In other words, the message can't be "anti-rich" but should focus on bad actors and outrageous behavior, forcing Republicans to defend the indefensible.

“More importantly, I think we fight for a few very specific items that the Republicans attempt to obstruct, so that these can be used as rallying cries for the fall elections,” the strategist says.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.