Political Scientist: Republicans To Gain Momentum

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Massachusetts Senate Democrats were stunned after losing a seat held for decades by a Democrat to a seemingly unknown republican. WOSU spoke with a political scientist to find out what this means for upcoming Ohio elections.

“You know I think this is a wake-up call to the Democrats.”

Paul Beck is a political science professor at Ohio State University. Beck said the Massachusetts Senate seat, left vacant by the late Ted Kennedy, had been considered a safe victory for Democrats. But he said the battles over health care reform and the economy continue to zap democratic strength.

The 15th and the 1st Ohio Congressional Districts are considered two of the most vulnerable for Democrats. 15th District Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy and 1st District Congressman Steve Driehaus each won by narrow margins in 2008. Beck expects Democrats to focus on issues of concern to their base including Wall Street bonuses. And in the meantime, Beck said, Republicans will enjoy a boost in momentum.

“And it appears in fact that the Republican posture in the Senate, particularly, but also in the House, of sort of opposing anything the Democrats are proposing is paying off as the Democrats are now beginning to be the recipients of voter irritation just as the Republicans were a year ago and back also in 2006,” Beck said.

Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern calls it “bad statistics” to predict outcomes for the November races in Ohio based on the GOP victory in Massachusetts. And Redfern remains confident democratic momentum, in Ohio at least, has not slowed.

“There’s no statistical evidence of that. There’s 986,000 more Democrats registered to vote in Ohio than Republicans. And as you witnessed in the 2006 general and the 2008 general (elections), Democrats did quite well because Democrats at the end of the day are right on the issues,” he said.

Beck disagrees, saying the edge enjoyed by Democrats for the past couple of years is gone.

“The democrats in some ways were riding the crest of the wave, riding momentum, all the way from the 2006 contest into the inauguration of President Obama. That wave is no longer there for them. And they need to kind of step back and reassess and figure out what direction they’re going to go in,” Beck said.

Ohio Republican Party Chair Kevin DeWine said Massachusetts Democrats lost the Senate seat because they’re overreaching and overspending, and he says that GOP victory means a lot to upcoming Ohio races.

“Those same issues are going to resonate here in Ohio over the course of the next nine months as this election season rolls out. So many of those same issues are going to play out here and I think if I were an Ohio Democrat I’d be very, very nervous,” DeWine said.

Still, Professor Paul Beck said the election is 10 months away, and he said the momentum for Democrats can shift in their favor, especially if the economy continues to get better – but likely not enough to retain current margins in the House and Senate. Beck said the big factor for the November races is who heads to the polls.

“Young people, minorities, for example, would be two groups that we would not expect to turn out in high levels unless they’re energized in 2010. And at least to date they haven’t been energized,” he said.

Beck sees that as one of the biggest challenges facing Democrats in 2010.