What a Democratic win on Nov. 2 would look like
In a roundtable with reporters late last week, David Plouffe, the architect of President Obama's 2008 campaign, set a very high bar for Republicans to declare victory in the November election.
"By their definition, success is winning back the House, winning back the Senate and winning every major governor's race," said Plouffe. "When you've got winds this strong in your favor, that's the kind of election you need to have -- or it should be considered a colossal failure."
Plouffe is, not surprisingly, spinning a bit -- essentially saying that unless Republicans win every competitive office this fall, it will be impossible for them to declare victory on Nov. 3.
But, his comments got us to thinking about the flipside of the equation: How can Democrats claim victory in 22 days time?
The party has struggled for the better part of the last year with voters -- particularly independents -- who have grown increasingly unhappy with the direction of the country. Every expectation from every political analyst of every political stripe is that Democrats are headed for major losses at every level this fall.
Losses are assured but defeat -- symbolically and politically -- may not be.
"It is very important for Obama to have some data points out there that suggest this is not a pro-Republican electorate but an anti-incumbent electorate," said one Democratic strategist intimately involved in the 2010 campaign.
Here's our chamber by chamber breakdown of how Democrats can declare victory -- with a straight face -- on Nov. 3.
The House equation for Democrats is simple: If they hold the majority -- even by a single seat -- following the election, they will say they won.
Republican strategists have spent the better part of the last two years trying to convince their supporters -- particularly donors and activists -- that the House is within reach.
They have succeeded in that endeavor as most neutral House handicappers are predicting that the Democratic majority is either gone (Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato) or close to it (Stu Rothenberg).
What that means, however, is that if Democrats hold the majority on Nov. 2, it will be virtually impossible for House Republicans to celebrate since they set the stakes at retaking control.
While some Democratic strategists like to say that anything short of a Republican Senate majority amounts to a victory for their side, that's probably a little too rosy a scenario.
Unlike in the House where Republicans have argued for months that the majority is at stake, Senate GOP strategists -- including National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) -- have done everything in their power to downplay the idea that Senate control is in the balance on Nov. 2.
So, how then do Senate Democrats claim a win? It's going to be tough since it now appears that almost the entirety of the playing field is on their turf.
The party's two best/only chances to win Republican seats -- and gain some traction in the "we won" argument -- are in Missouri and Kentucky.
At the moment, the Bluegrass State seems to be the better option for a surprise Democratic pickup as ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) has been unable to pull away from state Attorney General Jack Conway (D).
In Missouri, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee disputed a report last week that they were cutting back their ad buys but the race between Rep. Roy Blunt (R) and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) does look like something of an uphill climb.
If Democrats can't win either of those seats, their best hope for a Senate "victory" is to narrow the losses within their own ranks with Colorado, Nevada and Illinois all regarded as toss up races heading into the final three weeks of the campaign.
Holding all three -- coupled with an expected victory in Vice President Biden's old Delaware seat -- would keep Democratic losses in the mid-single digits and likely allow the party to credibly make the case that they dodged the doomsday Senate scenario.
Governors races draw the least attention in official Washington but clearly represent Democrats' best chance to score genuine wins on Nov. 2.
"No one else is going to be able to flip things," said a Democratic strategist deeply involved in gubernatorial races. "We are going to flip things. There are nine states where we have a good chance of flipping things."
Those nine states -- Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, California and Hawaii -- are all currently held by Republican governors. And, in each, there is a reasonable case to be made for why the Democratic nominee may well win.
While Democrats will almost certainly trumpet any Republican turnovers they make at the gubernatorial level, not all of those pickups are created equal.
The simple truth is that Florida, Texas and California are the major prizes -- given the size of each state's population and their importance in the coming 2011 redistricting process.
Wins in two of those three races would almost certainly make the election cycle for Democrats. A sweep of all three would elate party strategists.
Viewed broadly, Democrats are headed for major setbacks at the ballot box in three weeks time. The issue is whether they will be able to find silver linings in those dark clouds as the party -- and the country -- quickly pivot to the 2012 presidential race.
| October 11, 2010; 1:22 PM ET
Categories: Governors, House, Senate
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