All signs in the upcoming election point to a Democratic victory, but how satisfying it will be is another matter. A Republican setback appears to many inevitable, given that the GOP has managed to parlay a more or less 50-50 split into control of all three branches of Government for an extended period, not to mention the unpopularity of the war and a sex scandal that would have seemed unbelievable if it appeared as a fictional plot. Yet Democrats can take little satisfaction in the fact that--with almost every conceivable factor pointing their way--they still manage little better than a tie in most projections. That many people apparently lie to pollsters, and still others refuse to talk to them, make things even more complicated.
One of the more amusing aspects of this election, especially in Pennsylvania, is the Democrats' turn to what are effectively Republican candidates in order to win back control. The candidate to unseat Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), Joe Sestak, is a former admiral whose commercials show sailors saluting him for effect. The Democrat favored to unseat Sen. Rick Santorum, Bob Casey Jr., is both pro-gun and anti-abortion (we'll leave to the side whether abortion is really a "liberal" position, but it is usually perceived that way). The Midwest has further examples. How these cultural conservatives will adjust to the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco liberal, is less than clear. One candidate proposed to resolve the tension by having the U.S. withdraw its troops from Iraq and then announce that we had won. If this is any indication, the Republicans--as in 1974 and 1992--may find a Democratic victory the best tonic for their party.
A possible positive side, noticed by David Brooks and other commentators, is the return to moderation after six-eight years of extraordinarily polarized politics. I have always believed that the red state/blue state polarity is somewhat exaggerated, an artifact of a series of events (the Clinton scandals and the Iraq war) which tended to balloon partisan differences to greater than their actual level. With Democrats likely to elect a large number of freshman moderates (see above), and GOP hard-liners on the defensive, the way may be clear to a higher degree of cooperation on both domestic and foreign issues. The bad news for the Democrats is that the Presidential candidates most likely to benefit from this new moderation, like John McCain or Chuck Hagel, are primarily Republicans. In a previous column I noted the 40-year cycle in Presidential elections, which predicted a Democratic victory in four of the next five elections (we're now at 1966 in the proverbial pattern). A change this time could make things look quite a lot different four years down the road.