Scott Brown’s victory is canary in the coal mine for Democrats

Ralph Reed Contributor
Font Size:

Barack Obama was inaugurated as president one year ago Wednesday to the hosannas of the mainstream media. He strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue hand-in-hand with his wife Michelle, exuding the confidence of a man basking in sky-high poll numbers that approached 70 percent. What a difference a year makes.

Massachusetts—in a huge turnout of over 2 million voters in a special election—has sent a clear and undeniable message to Washington: Defeat the Obama-backed health care reform bill, stop the spending spree, and put the brakes on the Obama agenda, from terrorism to spending to taxes. The defeat of Martha Coakley and the election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate is the canary in the coal mine for Democrats. This is a state that, while it has elected Republicans as governor in recent years (William Weld, Mitt Romney), had not elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 37 years. The seat won by Brown had been held by Edward M. Kennedy for 47 years, and is currently occupied by Paul Kirk, a placeholder and longtime Kennedy family retainer. Brown will be the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, representing a state with only 13 percent of the voters registered Republicans.

According to Gallup, Obama’s poll numbers have plummeted faster than any president in modern times. His job approval in a recent CBS News poll stood at an anemic 46 percent, while his rating for health care was a mere 36 percent. (And this from CBS News.) Independents have abandoned the Democrats, breaking for Republican candidates by 2-to-1 or 3-to-1, and a resurgent grassroots conservative movement is tapping a deep vein of voter discontent. Then came Massachusetts.

First, Bob McDonnell won the Virginia gubernatorial contest by an 18-point landslide. On the same night, Chris Christie defeated Jon Corzine and became the first non-incumbent Republican governor candidate to win 50 percent of the vote in New Jersey since the 1970’s. Democrat pollster Celinda Lake said it best:

“There’s a lot of blame to go around, but the point of the matter is there’s a wave. And that wave: it hit Virginia; it hit New Jersey; it hit Massachusetts.” said Lake.

Before last night, Democrats were in denial. The Virginia blowout? The White House threw Creigh Deeds under the bus, saying he was a poor candidate who refused to embrace Obama. New Jersey? Corzine had his own problems. When Obama’s poll numbers began to crater, the White House’s response was to shoot the messenger. They smeared respected independent pollster Scott Rasmussen when he showed Obama’s job approval ratings dropping. Rasmussen is now fully vindicated, accurately documenting the Brown surge in Massachusetts.

The White House also thought Chicago-style machine intimidation would work with the alternative media. When Fox News broadcast commentary critical of Obama, Obama advisor Anita Dunn went into attack mode and claimed it was “not a news organization.” The result? Fox News now has ratings three times those of MSNBC and CNN combined in prime time.

When millions of average Americans poured into the streets to protest Obama’s out-of-control spending at “tea parties” beginning last April, the White House and its liberal allies denounced these protesters as “astroturf,” “tea-baggers,” “evil,” and even compared them to Nazis. House Majority Leader and FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey organized opposition to Obama’s policies, so White House allies pressured his DC law/lobbying firm to dump him. I saw Dick at a rally opposing Democratic health care reform the weekend it happened, and he joked: “They made a big mistake. Now I can spend all my time fighting them.”

With each defeat and setback, the Obama political team and the Democrats engaged in spin, finger-pointing, leaks to an adoring press corps, all the while ignoring the warning signs. As late as yesterday, while the Democratic establishment hung black crepe and mourned the impending loss of “the Kennedy seat,” a Democratic official was telling Politico with a straight face that Organizing for America—Obama’s campaign political operation now housed at the DNC—“is a winner” in Massachusetts, “that’s clear, win or lose.” Win or lose? Only in the Alice-in-Wonderland universe in which the Obama political team lives is someone who suffers an historic defeat proclaimed a winner. So I suppose Obama should have gotten a gold medal for flying all the way to Copenhagen on bended knee before the IOC, even if Chicago did lose the Olympics.

Is the Obama team still in denial? One wonders. Does Obama have the capacity to listen to the voters, call an audible, and adjust his policies and trim his ambitions? I doubt it. Obama has always struck me as a committed liberal, a true believer, and he will try to salvage health care and get whatever extreme policies he can passed before the 2010 elections. If other Democrats watch their careers go up in smoke and suffer the loss of their offices as a result, so be it. We shall see.

In the book on the 2008 presidential campaign Game Change, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann recount that Obama campaign aides referred to him privately as “the black Jesus.” Whenever they were in trouble, Obama’s eloquence and gifts saved the day. But after last night, Obama is not looking like a political savior anymore. In fact, he looks like the kiss of death. Massachusetts was opening volley of the 2010 elections, and Democrats are bracing for more defeats of historic proportions.

Ralph Reed is founder and president of Century Strategies, a public relations and public affairs firm with offices in Atlanta and Washington. He is the former chairman of the Georgia Republican Party.