On eve of anniversary, Obama's agenda at stake
By Ben Pershing
Is the 364th day of Barack Obama's presidency the most important one yet?
By the time the clock strikes on Obama's one-year anniversary in office, he should (probably) know whether the special election in Massachusetts has left his domestic agenda crippled or simply bruised. "A U.S. Senate race widely labeled a yawner just weeks ago reaches a thunderous finish today as Bay State voters cast ballots that could upend Barack Obama's health-care plan and change the course of his presidency," the Boston Herald ledes. "To hear the candidates and their supporters tell it, the stakes could hardly be higher," the Boston Globe writes. "Voters will decide not only who succeeds Edward M. Kennedy, who held the Senate seat for 47 years, but the outcome could make or break a proposed overhaul of the nation's health care system that Democrats and President Obama are eager to get through Congress." The Associated Press goes with understatement: "This isn't what Democrats had in mind."
In the last 48 hours, conventional wisdom has rapidly coalesced around the idea that the race is the GOP's to lose. Scott Brown "is running extremely well with Independents in the Bay State, and unless Democratic turnout exceeds everyone's expectations, Brown is headed for a comfortable win," says Stu Rothenberg. On Saturday, Charlie Cook wrote "Given the vagaries of voter turnout, particularly in lower participation level special elections, this race could still go either way, but we put a finger on the scale for Brown." Reid Wilson reports, "As stunning as it sounds, the GOP nominee heads into election day as the front-runner. Polls have shown him leading, and the latest surveys all show him gaining steam, even as Dems sought to drive up his negatives in the closing week. Brown has energized GOP voters and simply outworked his Dem rival." Everyone say it together: Turnout will be key.
Mark Blumenthal breaks down the data: "Of eight surveys completed and released since Wednesday, seven show Brown leading by at least a point. The one exception shows a dead heat Our chart of all polls shows a nearly seven point Brown gap between the trend lines for Brown and Coakley (51.2% to 44.3%). Browns' support on our standard trend estimate has increased by nearly twelve points (from 38.5% to 51.2%) in just the last two weeks." Burrowing further into the numbers, Nate Silver writes, "The FiveThirtyEight Senate Forecasting Model, which correctly predicted the outcome of all 35 Senate races in 2008, now regards Republican Scott Brown as a 74 percent favorite to win the Senate seat in Massachusetts. ... Overall, while I would probably take Coakley's side of a 3:1 wager, her situation looks to be increasingly difficult. She is basically relying upon getting solid turnout from a 'silent majority' of voters who have done little to make themselves seen and heard."
So what if Coakley loses? The New York Times reports the White House and Democratic leaders "have begun laying the groundwork to ask House Democrats to approve the Senate version of the bill and send it directly to President Obama for his signature. ... Some Democrats suggested that even if ... Coakley scraped out a narrow victory on Tuesday, they might need to ask House Democrats to speed the legislation to the president's desk, especially if lawmakers who had supported the bill begin to waver as they consider the political implications of a tough re-election cycle." In theory, the House could pass the Senate bill if recalcitrant Democrats can be convinced that the bill's flaws can be "fixed" later using the reconciliation process. The Hill notes that using reconciliation would present a long list of problems.
Jonathan Cohn makes the case for why House Democrats should acquiesce and pass the Senate version: "Flawed though it is, the Senate bill would represent a monumental policy achievement, one that would benefit tens of millions. And House Democrats could always try to fix the bill later on--maybe even quickly, if they can take advantage of the reconciliation process, which would remain available." But David Dayen at FireDogLake is adamant that the House won't do it, because if Coakley loses "there would be mass panic (Mass panic?) in the caucus, and people don't usually pass political courage tests in that environment." Ben Smith makes the same argument. Nate Silver hedges: "The only prediction I'd make is that ping-pong will happen quickly, or not at all." (He also compares health-care reform to the 2007 Mets' collapse.) Under this scenario, Obama's scheduling of the State of the Union for Jan. 27 makes sense -- health care will be done or dead by then.
For obvious reasons, Republicans have cast the race as a referendum on Obama and his agenda. Gerald Seib sees a broad failing: "The Democratic party's problems ... can be traced to a simple mistake: Many in the party misread voters' desire to switch parties in recent years as an ideological shift to the left." Peter Wehner agrees, arguing that "the core of Obama's popularity was an appeal not to policy or to a governing agenda; instead it was an appeal to thematics and narrative." And Jonah Goldberg says Democrats are mistaken if they think their health-care bill is jeopardized simply because they might lose their 60th vote: "The Democrats are unpopular now because they're rightly perceived as arrogant, ideological and fixated on an agenda not supported by the people. Blaming their problems on the filibuster will make them worse."
But the Washington Post writes that "Democrats argued that Coakley, rather than health-care reform or Obama, bears principal responsibility for allowing the race to become so close, noting that in many of their private polls in the state, both the president and his initiative are more popular than the attorney general." Politico reports that "Rahm Emanuel has blamed Coakley, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake for failing to see Brown's surge in time to stop it." Mike Allen says Obama "plans a combative response" if Coakley loses. (Really? What "bold" step could he take, other than cutting the deficit?) The latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll puts Obama's approval/disapproval at 50-45, "lower than any post-World War II president starting his second year in office except Ronald Reagan, who was at 49%."
January 19, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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