Democrats Well Positioned For Elections, Unless They're Not

It hasn't been an easy time to be a Republican lately. Your party has just replaced its strong but tainted House leader, Congress is caught up in a lobbying scandal (dominated by questions about GOP members) and you're now dealing with some unpleasant budget decisions. The Republican president remains mostly unpopular, as does the war he's leading and most people think the country is headed in the wrong direction. So it must be a pretty good time to be a Democrat, right? Not really if you listen to The New York Times this morning.

Today's story, written by Adam Nagourney and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, takes the pulse of the opposition party and finds it weaker than one might expect:

Democrats are heading into this year's elections in a position weaker than they had hoped for, party leaders say, stirring concern that they are letting pass an opportunity to exploit what they see as widespread Republican vulnerabilities.

In interviews, senior Democrats said they were optimistic about significant gains in Congressional elections this fall, calling this the best political environment they have faced since President Bush took office.

But Democrats described a growing sense that they had failed to take full advantage of the troubles that have plagued Mr. Bush and his party since the middle of last year, driving down the president's approval ratings, opening divisions among Republicans in Congress over policy and potentially putting control of the House and Senate into play in November.

It didn't take long for some sympathetic to the Democrats to notice. Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall writes:
Here is a perfectly nauseating article in the Times about how Democrats are apparently not taking full advantage of GOP woes, are generally sad, haven't come up with a plan, aren't crazy about their leaders, are afraid the Republicans are going to do this or that to hurt them, and apparently a bunch of other stuff too.

If what the article reports is true, the Democrats haven't even won back the majority in either house of Congress yet.

The article itself reads like a pretty lazy piece of journalism.

While Marshall is also fairly critical of the party and the leaders quoted in the article, I think he hits on a bigger point with his journalistic critique. As someone who has intensely followed political reporting for the better part of the last decade, I tend to agree with Marshall's assessment. Not to pick on The Times, but political reporters in general have this habit of looking for the counter-narrative. Things aren't looking so good for Republicans? Well, then let's check in and see what Democrats are worried about. Turns out they have concerns of their own – front page story, here we come.

That's not to say today's story wasn't legitimate or worthwhile. But when you put the story, headlined, "Some Democrats Are Sensing Missed Opportunities," on the front page of the paper, it tends to carry a little weight. And it feeds an impression that may not be very accurate.

I'll confess I haven't been exactly immersed in the details of all the campaigns happening this year, but I do have a sense that the landscape is more favorable for Democrats this year than it has been in years. The Republican Party has raised more money overall but the Democratic campaign committees are doing very well in that area and they have recruited better than Republicans in many races. In fact, campaign expert Charlie Cook writes today that in the House, the "possibility of a Democratic takeover -- although less than 50-50 -- is very real."

Of course what happens in November might be very different from anything we can anticipate today. That's something you should try to keep in mind when reading the tea leaves between now and then.