Desperate Democrats

Published on The Weekly Standard (

Desperate Democrats

The only strategy they have left is personal attacks.

BY Fred Barnes

August 23, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 46

The Democratic strategy in the 2010 election is simple: Change
the subject. And given the subject on everyone’s mind, who can blame
them? That subject is the economy and related matters like spending, the
deficit, debt, and President Obama. These are the last things Democrats
want to talk about.

Instead they’d like to reduce each race for the House and Senate to
the personal level. Their aim is to emphasize the individual flaws of
Republican candidates. In the Democratic game plan, the economy and
national issues are taboo.

This microstrategy is one of pure desperation. It’s all that’s left
when macro-political trends are going against you. Indeed, Democrats
start with two strikes against them. A midterm election is usually a
referendum on the president’s performance, and this year’s is no
exception. And the most important measure of the president’s success or
failure is the condition of the economy.

Given this, the campaign is on a track that’s likely to produce a
Republican landslide in November. So Democrats are eager to create a
separate track, a parallel campaign aimed at minimizing their losses.

The strategy is clever in that it lures the media into playing along.
Media types can’t help themselves. Those covering the campaign need new
things to report on each day. And Democrats are prepared to supply or
otherwise draw attention to just those things, the smaller and more
marginal the better.

We saw numerous instances of this last week. When GQ
magazine reported that Rand Paul, the Republican Senate candidate in
Kentucky, had “kidnapped” a female student while he was in college, the
story was widely disseminated by the media. Later, the “victim” came
forward to explain there was no kidnapping, only a college prank that
she went along with willingly. Despite its short life, the story
distracted attention from bigger issues.

Then there was the Colorado primary, the results of which were interpreted by Politico as “good news for President Obama and Democrats.” This was a stretch, but it was a fresh angle on the campaign. The New York Times on
its website said the president was “savoring one of the sweetest
victories of the midterm election season.” The White House did
everything it could to encourage this line of thinking.

Obama had supported appointed senator Michael Bennet, who handily
defeated his primary foe, former state house speaker Andrew Romanoff.
(Romanoff had the backing of former President Clinton.) White House
political chief David Axelrod said the Bennet victory showed that “2008
Obama voters” would “participate in an off-year election.”

But that wasn’t all. The Colorado results undermined predictions of a
“wave” election in 2010, a tide sweeping Republicans into office across
the nation, Axelrod told the Hill. Elections “will be decided
on a race-by-race basis, depending on the candidates and campaigns, and
not some wave.” Get it? Axelrod was saying the small, personal stuff
matters more than larger issues such as the economy.

For Democrats, Colorado brought another supposed benefit. “In an
assessment that many independent analysts tend to agree with,” John
Harris of Politico wrote, “[Democrats] said the most favorable
news for them may have come from the results on the Republican side.”
Harris was referring to the victory of local prosecutor Ken Buck over
former lieutenant governor Jane Norton for the Republican Senate

Buck’s problem? He was supported by Tea Party activists and had
committed a gaffe, a “caught-on-tape remark that he ought to be elected
because he didn’t wear high heels.” Yet Bennet’s weaknesses appear to be
greater than Buck’s, a fact the media overlooked.

The Republican primary attracted 68,573 more voters than the
Democratic primary, and Bennet got fewer votes than Jane Norton, the
Republican runner-up. The first postelection poll, conducted by Scott
Rasmussen, gave Buck a 46 percent to 41 percent lead over Bennet. And
Bennet is anxious about the possibility of an Obama campaign appearance.
“We’ll have to see,” he told ABC. “We’ll obviously do what’s right for
the campaign.” This is a signal to Obama to stay away. And it came from a
candidate who’s not brimming with confidence.

The Buck victory touched off a whole series of stories about the “offbeat” Republican candidates, as Politico
called them. The list includes Senate candidate Linda McMahon in
Connecticut, Rand Paul, and Colorado gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes. Politico
referred to them as “a former professional wrestling executive, a
libertarian ophthalmologist, and a man who thinks bicycle use could
empower the United Nations.”

For sure, these are candidates with peculiarities, and it’s the
idiosyncrasies and quirks and tendency to say unusual things that
Democrats and the press are concentrating on. But there’s no reason to
believe the Republicans who lost to these alleged oddballs would fare
better against Democrats in the fall.

While Democrats and the media are codependents here, a few
journalists deserve credit for exposing the strategy. “Obama and his
party are seizing on gaffe after GOP gaffe, intent on making the
election anything but a referendum on the majority,” Politico’s
Jonathan Martin wrote. Democrats are “moving faster and more
aggressively than in previous election years to dig up unflattering
details about Republican challengers,” Philip Rucker reported in the Washington Post.

Will the strategy work? With a powerful anti-Obama, anti-Democrat,
antiliberal storm brewing, it won’t help much. Democrats are pursuing it
for lack of an alternative. In 2010, it’s a strategy for losers.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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