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Analysis: Retirements Signal That Campaign Crunch Time Is Near

Ritter’s retirement as Colorado governor may be a partisan wash. Like many top state officeholders, Ritter has been beleaguered by budget problems exacerbated by the national recession, and a fresh face may have as good a chance or better of holding the seat.

That’s the same reason many Democrats were sanguine about Tuesday’s other big campaign news, the decision by Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry to drop his bid in this year’s open-seat race for governor.

Nearing the Tipping Point

But the Democrats would be clearly understating the case if they claim there is nothing consequential about the retirement announcements, in a single day, by two long-entrenched Senate incumbents, a sitting governor and a candidate who appeared to have dibs on a gubernatorial nomination.

The Democrats in recent weeks have had a few other recruiting setbacks, including the withdrawals of Laura Kelly, a state Senator who dropped her challenge to freshman Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), and technology executive Jack McDonald, who had raised a pile of money for what Democratic strategists hoped would be a strong challenge to three-term Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas).

It is too early to say the die is cast for the outcome of November’s election. Just as the Democrats find themselves in a much more difficult electoral environment than they expected 10 months ago, they could end up on more solid ground on Election Day nearly 10 months from now — especially if the economy perks up noticeably.

But it is also clear that the Democrats are on the clock. In December, Republican pollster Ed Goeas — co-director of the bipartisan Battleground Poll sponsored by George Washington University — said history shows it takes six months for voters to recognize that the economy is recovering from a recession. If he is right, that would give Democrats until May to persuade midterm election voters that things are changing for the better.

Pollster Celinda Lake, Goeas’ Democratic partner on the poll, stated a similar view, saying the economic indicators for the first quarter of this year will be crucial to stemming a Republican tide.

But the Democrats’ hopes for protecting their now-sizable majorities may hinge on a moment coming sooner: Obama’s State of the Union address, on a date to be determined in late January or early February. A persuasive argument by Obama of why his program is the cure for what ails America could give fellow Democrats the platform on which they need to run.

Obama’s meteoric rise was built on the power of his oratory, from his 2004 national emergence as keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention through his campaign for president and his victory speech on Election Night 2008. If he has one great speech left in him, this would be a good time to unleash it.

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