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Pessimism reigns with American public

1. The American public is deeply dissatisfied with Congress, the two political parties and the broad direction of the country, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, a pessimism that suggests wholesale change is a distinct possibility at the ballot box this fall.

The numbers in the survey are stark.

Just one in five approve of the job Congress is doing while a whopping 72 percent disapprove. Six in ten say that this Congress' performance has been either below average (28 percent) or "one of the worst" (32 percent). (Just six percent describe it as "one of the best" or "above average".)

The two political parties fare little better. Thirty-three percent of the sample view the Democratic party positively while 44 percent view it negatively; the news is even worse for Republicans who are seen in a positive light by by 24 percent and a negative one by 46 percent -- the worst showing ever for the GOP in the NBC/WSJ poll.

At a more macro level, evidence of a persistent pessimism is everywhere. Less than one in three people believe the country is headed in the right direction while 58 percent believe it is off on the wrong track. Nearly two-in-three (64 percent) of respondents said there is "still a ways to go" in the economic downturn as compared to 29 percent who said the economy had already hit the "bottom".

The extent of the dissatisfaction apparent in this poll is not new -- surveys have shown a public growing increasingly unhappy with the state of affairs in the country and the Congress for some time now -- but does reinforce the idea that the final three months (or so) of the midterm campaign will be extremely unpredictable.

While Democrats will almost certainly bear the brunt of the pessimism running rampant in the country due to the fact that a) they control all levers of power in Washington and b) they hold far more seats in the House and the Senate, it's clear that the public is far from sold on Republicans (or any politicians).

In an election cycle like this one, volatility appears to be the name of the game. The more unhappy voters are with the state of affairs in the country and the less conviction they have that politicians or Washington can fix it, the more they are open to change -- to trying something (or someone) totally different.

Victories by people like Rick Snyder, the wealthy businessman who rode his "one tough nerd" slogan to victory in the Michigan Republican governor's primary, are the leading edge of that "someone different" mentality.

The November election could produce many more Snyders if these numbers hold.

2. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is up with a new TV ad slamming former Nevada Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) for comments in which she suggested that voters dissatisfied with the direction of government should take to "second amendment remedies."

The ad features Bill Ames, the president of the Peace Officers Research Association of Nevada, calling Angle's comments "way over the line."

"It's crazy, but what she's actually talking about is armed resistance," Ames says. "Look, I'm a member of the NRA and a Republican, but that kind of talk is dangerous and way too extreme."

Angle's camp shrugged off the ad. "Reid is desperate to talk about anything except the economy because his policies as Majority Leader have caused over 14 percent unemployment in Nevada and voters hate him for it," said Angle spokesperson Jarrod Agen.

The commercial is the latest effort by Reid to paint Angle outside of the Nevada mainstream on issues; he has previously attacked Angle's past statement on Social Security.

Team Angle's strategy on the airwaves, meanwhile, has been to blame Reid for Nevada's record high unemployment while charging that "government is the problem" and "we, the people, are the solution."

Angle has undoubtedly given Reid plenty of fodder for ads, but the new spot comes after the Senate Majority Leader made a gaffe of his own when he told a crowd earlier this week: "I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, okay?". (Reid's camp later sought to clarify those remarks, saying that Reid's "contention was simply that he doesn't understand how anyone, Hispanic or otherwise, would vote for Republican candidates.")

A Reuters-Ipsos poll released last week showed Reid leading Angle 48 percent to 44 percent among likely voters -- a much narrower lead than Reid's 52 percent to 36 percent advantage among registered voters. Polling conducted since Angle's June 8th primary win has consistently shown her trailing Reid.

3. Free-spending former health care executive Rick Scott is up with two new TV ads bashing state Attorney General Bill McCollum, his opponent for Florida's Republican gubernatorial nod.

The first ad charges that McCollum "promised to spend tax dollars wisely, but then he spent $280,000 taxpayer dollars on chartered aircraft, even for personal use." The second claims that McCollum has been "caught in a lie again" for conflicting statements he's made on Arizona's immigration law. Both spots, which will be running statewide, refer to the gubernatorial hopeful as "career politician Bill McCollum."

Scott has been relentless in attacking McCollum on his long tenure in politics as well as his position on the immigration law while McCollum has countered by taking aim at Scott's political Achilles' heel -- the $1.7 billion fraud case involving his former company, Columbia/HCA.

This week has marked some of the more colorful developments for Scott and McCollum along the campaign trail. Scott held a press conference yesterday in order to defend himself from accusations regarding his current company, the Solantic walk-in clinic chain, but instead was hit with a subpoena in a new lawsuit. (At the same event, Scott decried McCollum as "the Tonya Harding of Florida politics.")
week.

A Mason-Dixon poll released late last week showed Scott leading McCollum 37 percent to 31 percent, with 29 percent undecided. Early voting ahead of the Aug. 24 primary began Monday.

State CFO Alex Sink will be the Democratic nominee. Bud Chiles, the son of former Gov. Lawton Chiles (D), is running as an independent.

4. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wasted little time in starting the general election fight against former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon (R) by launching his first ad designed to re-introduce him to voters.

Blumenthal, who has very high approval numbers from his two decades as the state's top cop, notes his battles against pharmaceutical companies, utilities and "big tobacco" in the ad. "The people of Connecticut know me, and one thing they know about me for sure is that I will fight for them," Blumenthal says, as images flash of him visiting various constituents.

The ad plays to Blumenthal's strengths and what has made him a popular figure in the state over the last two decades. While McMahon's professional wrestling empire will be on trial in the coming weeks, Blumenthal is setting a tone that is above-the-fray, even as plenty of other Democrats have been going negative in their first ads. (It's likely Republicans will work to quickly change that tone -- perhaps bringing up Blumenthal's exaggerations regarding his Vietnam service.)

Blumenthal is also staffing up as the general election begins, adding Tyler Matsdorf, a communications operative for Montana Sen. Max Baucus (D), to his team.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Blumenthal leading McMahon 50 percent to 40 percent, and she had been closing the margin in recent months thanks to her heavy spending in advance of Tuesday's primary.

5. Washington State Democratic Sen. Patty Murray leads former gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi (R) 41 percent to 33 percent in Washington's top-two primary next week, according to a new SurveyUSA poll.

But Rossi and a pair of GOP candidates are combining to take nearly half the vote, which could be bad for Murray in the second round of voting a.k.a. the general election.

Washington features an unusual voting system in which all candidates are thrown into one field in the Aug. 17 primary with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advancing to the general election.

The poll suggests that Rossi faces little danger of not finishing in the top two; former NFL player Clint Didier (R) takes 11 percent and Paul Akers (R) receives five percent. (Didier has the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and he and Akers are running an unorthodox joint campaign to take down Rossi as the establishment candidate.)

Murray, first elected in 1992, has consistently overperformed expectations in her re-election races. But, Rossi is widely seen as her most serious opponent yet and leading political handicappers rate the race as a toss up.

With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  |  August 12, 2010; 7:40 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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