Democrats Wake Up To Different Landscape: Potentially Brutal 2010

Roll Call Photos/Newscom

Surveying the 2010 landscape in the aftermath of the Massachusetts special election that cost Democrats their 60-seat supermajority, President Obama and the Congressional Democrats are going to have to defend more seats, spend more money and potentially concede key elements of their agenda.

In the immediate sense there is a big question about whether – and how – Democrats will be able to pass the health care bill they’ve worked on since July.

On a macro political level it already wasn’t going to be a easy year before Republican Scott Brown captured the seat Ted Kennedy held for 47 years. And it just got a lot harder.

Democrats cringe at the obvious comparison between the sentiment among Americans today and what they were one year ago when Obama raised his hand before millions who’d braved frigid temperatures to witness history.

But for a White House that values symbolism, losing Kennedy’s seat on the anniversary of Obama’s inauguration and facing deep criticism from Democrats over Kennedy’s signature issue of health care badly stings.

And Republicans who felt deflated one year ago are seizing the moment.

“We are waking up feeling like Republicans can compete anywhere,” a former RNC official told TPMDC. “Every seat is going to get another look.”A source told TPMDC the National Republican Congressional Committee has steadily added races to its target list of battlegrounds, and more are expected in the coming days.

Republican recruitment will be in overdrive in purple districts across the country and the White House and party leaders are going to have to strain to stave off retirements from their side.

An administration official told TPMDC the Brown win affects the calculus of the Obama agenda but said the Massachusetts race was affected by the national landscape, not the other way around. White House aides also disputed reports that Obama was working the phones to prevent retirements.

But the NRCC sent a memo this morning that the race sent a message to Congressional leaders that “enough is enough.”

“Vulnerable Democrats who continue to back their party’s reckless health care push will make the Massachusetts special election look like a walk in the park,” the NRCC press shop wrote.

While activists worry the gains they built during the presidential race could be erased, Obama loyalists point out that they changed the electorate in key swing states such as Florida and Virginia but didn’t focus much effort in 2008 on Massachusetts because it was considered safe.

Still, a surge of Republican pickups in governors’ mansions and statehouses this fall would allow the GOP to have a major say in redistricting, a potential game changer for the 2012 elections.

The former RNC official warned that GOP control of redistricting would be “catastrophic” for the Democratic party.

In California, the Republican candidates already were saying Massachusetts does not bode well for Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Republicans set their sights on Connecticut, where the Democratic candidate holds a solid lead over GOP challengers. It’s a blue state and that lead could be intimidating, they say, until you remember that Martha Coakley once held a 30-point lead over Brown.

The already toss-up states (Nevada, Colorado and even Pennsylvania) are looking tougher for Senate Democrats to hold.

Democrats say they want the White House to fight harder for its agenda, and see Obama get aggressive. David Axelrod signaled this morning that’s the direction they are headed.

Brown declared last night that “What happened in Massachusetts can happen all over America,” a quote echoed by tea party groups in celebratory emails and tweeted out by GOP Senate candidates from Florida to California.

Scott Brown’s win was “only the beginning,” Republican candidate for Senate in Connecticut Linda McMahon said in a statement. “The people are just warming up.”

A labor official told TPMDC the election should be a “sobering” reminder to candidates that voters want results from Washington. If Democrats want voters to keep backing them, they must pass health care reform and a jobs bill, the source said.

Working families “are sick of talk, they want action,” the source said.

Liberals warn that moving to the center is “exactly the wrong lesson” from the special election.

“The party did nothing with their 60 votes and it’s a testament to how out-of-touch and incompetent Washington is,” said James Boyce, a Boston-based Democratic consultant who has been criticizing the White House as not progressive enough for months.

Alex Conant, a consultant and former Republican National Committee aide, said the Brown win sends a signal to any Republican candidate considering a run in states like Washington or California.

“If you’re a conservative or a Republican and you ever wanted to run for public office this is the year to do it,” Conant said.

Money will flow more freely to Republican coffers as well, while Democrats are behind from the get-go having had to spend more money than planned in Massachusetts and now suffering the loss.

Democrats considering bids may be thinking twice since the party will need to defend their incumbents.

For Brown, he’ll be the darling of the Republican party for the time being. His stock is on the rise and party leaders already are eyeing him to deliver the response to Obama’s State of the Union address next week.