Absent an 'October Surprise,' Are the Stars Aligned?

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Daily headlines proclaim the potential for a sweeping Republican victory on Nov. 2, but are the stars aligned?

History, the best predictor of the future, points to a Republican victory. From 1946 until now, whenever a president's job approval rating has fallen below 50 percent in his first mid-term election, his party has lost an average of 42.2 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, ranging from a low of 11 in 1978 to a high of 55 in 1946. President Obama's job approval rating, now at 44, is the same as Lyndon Johnson's in 1966 when Democrats lost 47 seats.

In 1992 Bill Clinton's campaign advisor James Carville declared, "It's the economy, stupid." Echoing Carville's classic refrain today are high unemployment, lingering at 9.5 percent, and a low Consumer Confidence Index of 48.5, down from 53.2 in August, which do not bode well for Democrats.

This year Republicans have the "Big Mo" of momentum not seen since they captured control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994. Throughout this year's primary season, Republican turnouts far exceeded Democratic turnouts, and polls show that Republicans are more enthusiastic and more likely to vote on Nov. 2 than are Democrats.

Because most Americans are neither far right nor far left ideologically, Presidents Reagan and Clinton governed center-right and center-left, respectively. But President Obama has pursued several major policies that the public considers outside the centrist mainstream of American politics, notably health care reform. Meanwhile public opinion polls show that the center of the electorate has shifted even more center-right, leaving President Obama and the Democratic Party isolated on the far left.

While the Tea Party movement has brought large numbers of new voters and new candidates into the Republican Party, the Democratic Party has had difficulty motivating its constituency. Key groups in the 2008 Obama coalition, especially African-Americans, women, and independents, have lost their enthusiasm for President Obama and his policies.

This year Democrats face two major intra-party conflicts:

(1) the far left versus centrist or "Blue Dog" Democrats; and

(2) union workers versus upscale, suburban liberals. Although Republicans have divisions between establishment Republicans and the emerging Tea Party movement, they appear to be reconciling their differences in the interest of winning on Nov. 2.

Money, the mother's milk of politics, has increasingly flowed freely into Republican and Tea Party coffers unlike normal mid-term election years when the President's party enjoys a major fundraising advantage.

Two years ago President Obama flew to victory on the wings of hope and change. Now, the wings have fallen off, and Democrats face a cavernous credibility gap between the promise they offered in 2008 and the performance they have delivered. Now the public appears to have a case of buyers' remorse.

"Obamatization" has become the centerfold of the campaign. Democrats who would like to distance themselves from his policies find them hanging over their heads like the "Sword of Damocles."

So it is that Democrats struggle to come up with an "October Surprise," but nothing seems to be working.

Absent an "October Surprise," the stars are aligned for a major Republican victory on Nov 2.

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Charles W. Dunn

Distinguished Professor of Government, Regent University

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