Democrats have long known that 2010 will be a difficult year politically, but the opening days of the New Year have brought home that reality with unexpected intensity.
The surprise retirement announcements by a pair of veteran senators and a first-term governor often lauded as a rising star in the West underscored the degree to which the party begins this election year on defensive.
The euphoria among Democrats that accompanied President Barack Obama’s inauguration a year ago has disappeared. They face the possible loss of their governing majorities in the House and Senate and becoming the minority among the nation’s governors. Survival is now the watchword.
Democrats will note that there are individual reasons why each of the three politicians chose not to run, but Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan and Colorado Governor Bill Ritter collectively sent a message that speaks to the nervousness of incumbents — particularly Democratic incumbents — in a year in which voter dissatisfaction is palpable. Six Republican senators said last year that they will not seek re-election.
In some Democratic circles, including at the White House, there is a hope that by next fall the landscape will look less forbidding. That is based on two assumptions.
First, that the economic outlook will be brighter and that unemployment may be lower than it is today.
Second, that, with the expected passage of comprehensive health-care reform, the public will look more favourably on the changes than they do today.
But even optimistic Democrats fear that may not be enough to head off sizeable losses. After two big elections, Democrats are due for a setback. The decisions by Dodd, Dorgan and Ritter speak to that calculus.
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