March 15, 2007


Winning the White House? History's Against Them (Samuel L. Popkin and Henry A. Kim, March 11, 2007, Washington Post)

The Democrats' road to the White House in 2008 runs through Congress, and it is uphill all the way. The last time either party captured the White House two years after wresting control of both House and Senate in midterm elections was in 1920. Democrats who think that it is their turn to expand their pet programs and please their core constituencies have forgotten how quickly congressional heavy-handedness can revive the president's party. [...]

Early in 1987, to pick a powerful recent example, the Republicans' prospects looked even bleaker than they do today. Democrats had just recaptured the Senate and retained the House, and polls showed that the public had more confidence in them than in the Reagan administration to reduce the federal deficit. The Iran-contra hearings investigating the secret sale of arms to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages and the funneling of the profits to the Nicaraguan contras were the big story, and looked ominous enough to derail Vice President George H.W. Bush's White House aspirations. Then in 1988, Bush handily dispatched Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic nominee.

But this wasn't a new story. In 1946, President Harry S. Truman was lower in the polls after his midterm defeat than were George W. Bush, Clinton or Ronald Reagan after their midterm losses. Truman was reelected in 1948.

Presidential parties have also done well in the legislative battles that have followed every midterm takeover since World War II. Presidents and their parties recover after midterm wipeouts because, as Clinton had to remind people in 1995, "The Constitution makes me relevant."

The president's party begins to recover when he wields his veto pen -- especially if he can establish his relevance as a defender of the center against the other party's excesses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 15, 2007 11:47 AM

Been 47 years since the last time a non-Bubba Democrat presidential candidate won.

Been 43 years since the last time the more liberal presidential candidate won (something to ponder for Rudy fans).

Why exactly would anyone who knows anything about America think the Dems are likely to win in '08? Especially given their inevitable candidate already has catastrophic negative ratings?

Posted by: b at March 15, 2007 12:13 PM

JFK was a stealth candidate. Nobody outside MA really knew him and he was supported behind-the-scenes by rich and powerful friends (Joe Sr and Daley). And he looked good on TV.

Even so he beat Nixon by the barest whisker.

Posted by: at March 15, 2007 12:42 PM

Since Rudy, liberal as he may be, is far more conservative than Clinton (or Obama), I don't think that is a problem.

Posted by: Bob at March 15, 2007 1:17 PM

The Dems in Congress seem determined to prove Popkin's point, as they telegraph weakness and division over Iraq (Hillary's endless string of "nuanced" positions is itself a wonder to behold), and overreaching on domestic issues in service of their various special-interest constituencies (the dump-the-secret-ballot initiative to "improve" union elections being just one of many). Popkin has worked on various campaigns for Dems. It must kill him to write this.

Posted by: RHD [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 15, 2007 1:33 PM


Even longer when neither an incumbent nor a third party candidate was in the race--the 19th century in fact.

Posted by: oj at March 15, 2007 1:37 PM

Hillary can easily run to Rudy's Right.

Posted by: oj at March 15, 2007 4:17 PM

Kennedy didn't win.

Posted by: erp at March 18, 2007 7:44 AM