The Democratic National Committee circulated a memorandum this week in an effort to dispel comparisons to the party’s devastating congressional defeat in 1994, when Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 40 years.
The four-page memo listed polls showing major differences between the often-compared election cycles, including data showing that Americans have little faith in Republicans to lead the country. It also listed presidential approval ratings that show Obama to be more popular than George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were shortly before the 2006 and 1994 elections, respectively.
“While many Democratic candidates this year may face tough races, polling suggests that this election is shaping up to be different in many respects than either 1994 or 2006, with Democrats in position to win close races across the country and to maintain strong majorities in both the House and Senate,” the DNC’s Brad Woodhouse wrote in the memo. Comparisons to previous “wave elections” were “at best poor,” he added.
Democrats are right to be nervous about losing seats, said Isaac Wood of the non-partisan University of Virginia Center for Politics, but not simply because the electorate favors Republicans. There have only been two mid-term elections in which the party that controlled the White House did not lose House seats since the 1930s, he said.
One certain difference between 1994 and 2010, Wood added, is that Democrats have a much better idea of their future than they did at this time 16 years ago. “Democrats in 1994 didn’t see it coming,” he said. “That’s a potential advantage that Democrats have this time.”
Republican pollsters who reviewed the letter shrugged it off as an attempt to keep lawmakers and party foot soldiers focused on salvaging as many seats in Congress as possible.
“The mood of the country is just as negative as it was in 1994,” said Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies, a Republic polling firm. “This is something they’re putting out so the Democratic members don’t panic and that the donations don’t dry up.”
The memo was released in the aftermath of a squabble between White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs, who recently suggested that Democrats could lose the House in November, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who responded in a sharply worded fundraising e-mail this week. “Democrats will keep control of the House,” the letter said. “Period.”
“I actually take Gibbs’ position on this,” Woods said. “I think it’s better to sound the alarm and get all hands on deck rather than whistle across the graveyard.”
Republicans need to net 39 seats in the House and 10 Senate seats to take control of Congress in November.