“If they do take [the House] back, it would be a mistake for them to view it as a mandate for them,” one senior House Democratic aide said. “If things haven’t changed in two years, [voters] may do it to them too.”
Democrats clearly felt they had a mandate to enact their priorities after the 2006 and 2008 surges, and like many leaders before them, they took a long view toward their agenda by pursuing issues such as health care reform and a cap-and-trade system for energy markets.
And even though Democrats made an economic stimulus package the first item of business when they convened in 2009, voters appear poised to punish the majority for not taking a short-term, focused approach to the country’s ills.
“A lot of voters think we did too much and didn’t focus on the economy,” the senior House Democratic aide acknowledged.
But the aide added that many Democrats feel their missteps came in failing to pass a larger stimulus bill, given that many economists said the $900 billion that Obama proposed would likely be inadequate. In the end, concessions made to Republicans and centrist Democrats shaved the stimulus to $787 billion, a third of which was tax cuts.
“I’m not sure what, if anything else, we could have done,” a senior Senate Democratic aide said of the party’s attempts to address the recession and the slow recovery.
Republicans said that if they take control of the House, their strategy would build on the lessons they have learned from the Democrats and their own loss of the majority in 2006, which many attribute to their abandonment of small-government, fiscally conservative roots.
“We have some perspective from these last few Congresses,” said one House GOP aide with knowledge of leadership’s thinking. “But this Congress in particular was a mess. It was all over the place. It wasn’t focused.”
Focused or not, the massive — and frequent — political shifts have some wondering whether politics has become a tidal affair, with sweeping change becoming the norm. It’s a theory born from the never-ending campaign season, the 24-hour news cycle and an electorate that has little patience for gradual change.
Of course, a split in party control between the House and Senate might make it harder for another wave election to develop in 2012, simply because voters may find it hard to blame one party or the other.
Both sides could take credit for any good news and point the finger to the other chamber or the president if the economy and jobs situation continue to be stuck in a rut. Another argument against a fourth wave election is that 2010 looks likely to serve as a course correction after Democrats extended their gains well beyond the traditional places where the party has been successful.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Roll Call on Monday that while the mood of the country may be similar, this year’s wave favoring Republicans is not the same as the GOP’s 1994 landslide or Democrats’ 2006 victories.
“I think the issue set is a little different. ... Spending and debt are much more important,” the Kentucky Republican said. “There’s [also] a genuine fear about the direction of the country this year, which I don’t think was the case in ’94 or 2006.”