Arkansas Congressman Marion Berry is the latest to offer his retirement in the wake of the Democrats’ turn of fortune surrounding the health-care disaster.
Berry, whose seat will almost certainly go Republican this fall, didn’t announce his departure meekly. Ina piece in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported by Politico.com’s Glenn Thrush, (the Little Rock paper’s story is subscription-only), he’s quoted as sounding a major alarm for Democrats and the country as a whole this fall…
Berry recounted meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home.
“I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’ We’re going to see how much difference that makes now.” [snip]
“I began to preach last January that we had already seen this movie and we didn’t want to see it again because we know how it comes out,” said Arkansas’ 1st District congressman, who worked in the Clinton administration before being elected to the House in 1996… “I just began to have flashbacks to 1993 and ’94. No one that was here in ’94, or at the day after the election felt like. It certainly wasn’t a good feeling.”
Berry’s retirement comes on the heels of another announcement today. This one comes from Delaware, where Vice President Joe Biden’s son Beau said today that he’s not running for his father’s old Senate seat. The younger Biden, who is that state’s attorney general, was up against a rather fearsome Republican challenger, namely Congressman Mike Castle. Castle, a former governor of Delaware and that state’s lone Republican politician of stature, is not a conservative. But he does happen to be a relatively astute politician and without question an upgrade from the Bidens where Republicans and conservatives are concerned.
Meanwhile, in Illinois the GOP is eyeing the Senate seat formerly held by Barack Obama and currently occupied by the abysmal Roland Burris. The party primaries are eight days away, and most think state treasurer Alex Giannoulas – an old friend and political ally of Obama’s – is going to win the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, many believe Congressman Mark Kirk has a very strong chance to win election – but an insurgent campaign from the more conservative Pat Hughes bears watching. Kirk hevily leads in the polls thus far, but despite an overwhelming name recognition advantage he has not yet crossed the 50 percent threshhold. A Chicago Tribune poll released today has Kirk with 47 percent and Hughes with only eight percent, but some 35 percent of the state’s Republican voters are undecided. Many Tea Party and other conservative groups have come in behind Hughes of late, and a poll he released today shows Kirk ahead 42-22, with 27 percent undecided. Kirk has over $3 million in the bank, but he’s attempting to save it for the general election; meanwhile Hughes’ fundraising efforts are just beginning to take off.
Either way, this looks like a good year for a Republican Senate win in Illinois. And elsewhere, pollster Stuart Rothenberg writes in Congressional Quarterly that Democrats are facing nightmarish polling across the board:
Surveys over the past couple of weeks have shown Republican former Rep. Mike Sodrel ahead of Democratic Rep. Baron P. Hill in Indiana by 8 points; in Maryland, Republican Andy Harris leads freshman Democrat Frank M. Kratovil Jr. by 13 points; GOP former Rep. Tim Walberg leads Democrat Mark Schauer in Michigan by 10 points; and Republican former Rep. Steve Chabot leading Democratic Rep. Steve Driehaus by a whopping 17 points.
In addition, Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-N.Y.) leads unknown challenger Randy Altschuler (R) by only 2 points, while controversial Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is drawing 55 percent in an early ballot test against state Sen. Tarryl Clark (D).
Even if only most of these results are close to being accurate, they suggest that other Democratic House incumbents are seeing significant erosion in their numbers from what those same numbers were even a year ago.
Over in the Senate, Democratic numbers are equally terrible.
Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Nevada Sen. Harry Reid , the majority leader, are sitting with unfavorable ratings larger than their favorable ratings. Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who would be crushed if this year’s political environment resembled the 2006 or 2008 cycle, is running even or ahead of his potential Democratic opponents, and Democratic prospects over the past year have deteriorated in Ohio and Missouri.
Polling in North Carolina is particularly instructive. Recent surveys continue to show roughly equal numbers of respondents approving and disapproving of the job Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr is doing. But even with those mediocre numbers, Burr is holding clear (if unintimidating) leads over his potential general election opponents.
The bottom line on all of this seems pretty clear: Voters are not enamored of incumbents of either party, and GOP incumbents or “establishment” candidates facing strong “outsider” primary opponents could be in for more rough sledding than they would normally need to expect.
But when the general election rolls around, unless there is a significant change in the national mood, voter dissatisfaction will be aimed overwhelmingly at the candidates of one party. And that is why Democratic insiders are privately raising their own estimates of party losses.
Rothenberg’s doomsaying for the Democrats isn’t unique, and it’s leading to a conventional wisdom scaring the pants off the center-Left. Leaks like the one from Berry in which the president is offering his popularity up as a panacea for the rage his congressmen and senators are feeling from their constituents probably don’t ease their nerves, and as such it should not be a surprise to see more Berrys and Parker Griffiths in the future.