The $789-billion dollar stimulus bill is headed for final passage by the House and Senate. Whatever the merits of the bill's specific provisions, this is an important victory for President Obama and for Congressional Democrats.
The honeymoon-level public approval of Obama seems to be holding up, as the RCP average of polls shows, although he did take a few hits over the past couple of weeks as Republican critics assailed his economic plan. In contrast, it's clear that the Democrats in Congress have lost a lot of public support. Unlike the President, all House members and many Senators face election contests next year.
According to the latest Rasmussen poll of voters' generic Congressional preference, Republicans are running neck and neck with Democrats, with 40% of voters saying they would vote for a Democratic Congressional candidate and 39% choosing a Republican. Just last week, the Democrats held a four point lead (42-38), and two weeks ago, they were ahead by seven points. Forty percent is the lowest support for the Democrats over the past year, down from a high of 50%. Republican support sank to a low of 34% at one point in the past year.
Writing in U.S. News, conservative Michael Barone notes that the generic ballot slippage is potentially a big deal:
Given that this generic ballot question over the years has tended to understate Republicans' performances in actual elections, one gathers that if the 2010 election for House seats were held today, Republicans would win or come close to winning a majority of seats—which is to say, they would gain about 40 seats. By way of comparison, they gained 52 seats when they won their majority in 1994. This result may just be a momentary blip, which will pass away as quickly as it appeared, and we are a long, long, long way from the November 2010 elections.
The mid-term elections are a long way off, but the poll numbers point to a constant in American politics that Obama and the Democrats should remember lest it trip them up, as it has Republicans and Democrats alike in recent decades: those who occupy the political center win, and those who drift too far to the left or right will lose, even if it takes a cycle or two.
Since Obama's election, there has been a great deal of silly -- no, wishful -- talk about sea changes, permanent realignments, the withering away of the Republican Party and a Democratic ascendancy far into the future. Maybe so. But as these poll numbers signify, less than one month into this new era of Democratic control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, the fundamentally centrist nature of the American electorate is already asserting itself, warning Democrats not to get carried away with their power.
Voters on the whole like Obama, want to give him a chance, and hope he'll succeed, especially in re-energizing the economy. On the other hand, after weeks in which they have heard Congressional Democrats call for more spending and Republicans call for less spending and more tax cuts, centrist voters -- independents and moderate Republicans and Democrats -- are casting their straws for the Republican side of that argument.
Even if the economy is charging ahead again in 2010, the huge overhang of massive spending and burgeoning deficits will largely define the mid-term elections. If they don't watch carefully, the Democrats may be setting themselves up for another 1994-style defeat.
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