History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself.
Lots of Illinois Democrats believed after the 2010 national Republican landslide that the worst had passed. They harkened back to 1996, when President Bill Clinton rallied from humiliating midterm losses and decisively won re-election. The Illinois House had been taken over by the Republicans in 1994, but the Democrats wrenched it from their control two years later. The Senate Democrats just barely missed winning a majority in their chamber that same year.
The Democrats also were comforted after last year’s election because they knew they would be redrawing the new district maps this year. Last year’s Republican surge gave them a road map for how to avoid 2012 trouble. They could shore up their weaknesses and create new opportunities in General Assembly and congressional districts.
But the economy has worsened and, unlike Clinton did during the government shutdown, President Barack Obama hasn’t yet managed to turn the tables on the Republicans.
Obama’s job approval rating in his home state is below 50 percent, according to a recent poll. And Obama’s approval rating is way lower than that outside of Chicago and Cook County. Nothing has worked. His policies have fallen short and his recent move to the left, demanded by the rank and file, has not stemmed his slide in the polls.
The whole environment is just cruddy for the Democrats. On top of the national problems, there was that big state income tax increase back in January, which has stuck in everybody’s craw. It’s almost constantly in the news because of a steady parade of corporate CEOs threatening to leave Illinois. The last tax increase disappeared from the zeitgeist pretty quickly because it had bipartisan support. The Republicans refused to lend a hand this time around, and the Democrats are getting all the blame.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s job approval ratings have never been all that high, but they slipped below 30 percent in the most recent poll. His unsteady leadership isn’t helping matters much. And the General Assembly isn’t doing itself a whole lot of favors by failing to reverse the madness.
As a consequence, the Democrats could easily be looking at a bloodbath next year, particularly Downstate. The House Democrats caught a break in 2010 when the Republicans wasted most of their energy in suburban Cook County. The Republicans could’ve picked up a lot more seats if they had fielded decent Downstate candidates and spent more cash in the region. They’re not making the same mistake this time around.
Top legislative Democrats are saying this has been the worst candidate recruitment year they’ve seen. They had been counting on a backlash against the Republicans (a la 1995-96) to help recruit good candidates, but instead they’re encountering malaise, indifference, fear and even hostility.
The situation may be worse than they realize. My father went door-to-door for Obama in his U.S. Senate race. Obama used to call him “Brother Miller.”
Dad loved him.
When Obama decided to run for president, Dad attached giant, custom-made “Obama ’08” stickers to both sides of his vintage 1963 Cadillac convertible. He christened it the “Obamallac” and drove all over Iowa to advertise his guy before the 2008 caucuses.
I called Dad on Tuesday night and he told me he was watching the Republican presidential debate. I asked him why and he said he’s so bitterly disappointed in Obama that he is looking around for someone else to support.
If Obama has lost the Obamallac owner, he’s in gigantic trouble, and so is the rest of the Democratic Party.
* The Obamallac..