Friday, May 21, 2010

Here Come the Midterms

by Richard Crews
The midterm elections are less than six months away. Historically, the midterms two years after a change of administration show a significant shift back to the party that was kicked out of power. The Republicans are certainly already counting their chickens--expecting to regain a majority in the House and make some gains--if not a majority--in the Senate.

If the economic recovery and job growth in the U.S. continue to be sluggish--as they probably will--this will put all the more fuel in the Republican fire. In addition the Greek debt crisis has highlighted the weakness of several other sovereign debt balances (Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, with Italy close behind). Weakness in the Euro and worldwide stock market jitters demonstrate worries about this and, in the longer term, about national debt problems and trade imbalances lurking many places around the world. All of these favor the Republicans in November.

But there are several factors weighing on the Democrats' side. For one thing, Obama has become more active, and he is a very popular and charismatic figure when he speaks out. The Republicans continue to lack any single, significant, charismatic leader. In addition, the Tea Party movement may fracture Republican support and divide it among several branches.

One huge unknown is whether the Democrats will be able to mobilize the new voters who swept Obama into office in 2008. Traditionally the midterms do not attract as much participation as presidential elections do, although the Internet and new high-tech communications have made this factor very hard to predict. Similarly, new Internet micro-money that fell so heavily to the Democrats two years ago, may do so again, including the newest modes--texting and text donating have not been tested in a national election.

And there is one enormous elephant lurking in the corner, one that I've seen no pundits mention yet in terms of its election impact. The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is massive beyond imagination, and because it is occurring a mile deep, much of the oil is gradually seeping upward and dispersing. As it invades the Gulf and shorelines around the tip of Florida and--joining the Gulf Stream--northward along the Eastern seaboard, it is likely to prove to be an ecological and economic disaster of 9-11 and Katrina proportions. As such it may well favor the Democrats. The electorate is reluctant to change horses in the middle of a crisis.