A new fundraising letter from Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts gives a strong hint about how Democrats may try to stir their base to action during the 2010 election season: scare them with the prospect of a Sarah Palin nation.
“Think GOP obstruction is bad now?” Senator Kerry asks in a fundraising letter sent out Tuesday morning by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Just imagine what Washington would look like if a bunch of new senators – inspired by Sarah Palin and the tea party crowd – took over.”
In recent months, the political right has been energized by Ms. Palin, whose "Going Rogue" book tour has boosted her favorability rating, and by the Tea Party movement, which has channeled the anger of fiscal conservatives outraged by Obama administration spending. Together, they kindle the worst political fears among many liberals, summoning visions of gun-toting, Glenn Beck-watching, right-wing radicals.
With the Democratic caucus holding 60 seats in the Senate – exactly the number needed to defeat a Republican filibuster – Kerry suggested in his letter that "the loss of even one or two would flip crucial votes in their favor and doom President Obama’s agenda.”
Breaking the midterm trend
Traditionally, the party of a new president tends to lose seats in midterm elections. Recent GOP victories in New Jersey and Virginia governor's races raise that specter for 2010. In large part, Kerry appears to be trying to offset the historic trend by creating a conservative bogeyman (bogeywoman?) against which Democrats can fundraise and campaign.
“Either we match the passion and activism of these new forces in the Republican Party or they’ll be choosing who’s sitting in the Senate, steering our country’s course,” Kerry writes. “If we don’t match them dollar-for-dollar, we will lose Senate seats in 2010."
A 'sideshow' or a 'threat'?
Yet there is at least an element of truth in his statement: “If you think this movement is more circus sideshow than actual threat, you’d be mistaken.” Palin and the Tea Party movement have gained enough public legitimacy to at least serve as a foil for Democratic ambitions.
Shortly after resigning the Alaska governorship this summer, Palin's favorability rating was 39 percent, according to CNN. Now relieved of actual governance and inspired by a popular book tour and relaxed TV appearances, Palin has pushed her rating to 46 percent. By a somewhat less scientific measure, she also recently got a 30-second ovation on "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" – a show that has mercilessly mocked her.
Perhaps more relevant to Democrats like Kerry is some Republican candidates' apparent desire to court Palin and Tea Partiers as a way to vicariously claim their energy. Republicans such as Mark Kirk, who is running for Mr. Obama's former Senate seat in Illinois, are “contorting themselves to appeal to the new Sarah Palin Republicans,” Kerry writes.
Such tactics, Kerry warns, “might seem silly. But they’re working.”
Now, Kerry's apparent hope is that an anti-Tea Party strategy will work, too.
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