WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2010 — -- It's been a tough week for Democrats. First two Democratic senators, facing tough poll numbers at home, announced that they won't be running in the 2010 midterm elections, which in turn exposes those seats to Republican gains.
And this weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is under fire from Republicans who say he should step down after revelations that he made racially insensitive remarks about then candidate Obama's chances of winning the presidency as a "light-skinned" African American with "no Negro dialect."
Speaking today on "Fox News Sunday," Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele said Reid should go.
"There is this standard where the Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it -- when it comes from the mouths of their own," Steele says. "But if it comes from anyone else, it's racism. ... Clearly, he is out of touch."
It's unclear what kind of political impact the remarks will have on Reid, but he's already struggling at home in Nevada where his poll numbers have been plummeting and his seat is at risk.
In 2009, Democrats enjoyed a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority in Congress that has allowed them to push forward with key Democratic issues including health care reform. But if they lose even one seat in this year's midterm elections, that power is dramatically diminished.
Democratic party leaders are poised for an uphill battle. Congressman Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says, "We recognize this is going to be a tough and challenging election cycle. The first midterm for new presidents historically has been a very tough time for the president's party and given the state of the economy, clearly there are challenges.
"But talk about the democrats losing control of the house or this being 1994 all over again are just a hallucination by some Republican friends," Hollen says. "That's just not going to happen."
The so-called Republican Revolution led by Newt Gingrich, which gave the GOP control of both the House and the Senate after sweeping victories nationwide, took place in 1994. But political analysts say it's too early to say how many seats the GOP will pick up this November -- but the Democrats are on the ropes.
Health Care Reform Still a Polarizing Issue Among Democrats
"Suddenly the political environment has turned against democrats," says Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report. "And now it's a question of the size of the losses, really how bad 2010 will be for the Democratic Party."
Democrats face tough races this fall in large part because of the natural ebbs and flows of American politics. But the challenge of this election for the Democrats is more than just cyclical. Analysts say the pending health care reform legislation is a political liability for the Democrats, no matter if the bill passes or not.
"If they were to fail to pass anything, it would be disastrous for the party because some of the Republicans would say the Democrats control everything, and they still can't pass the bill," Rothenberg says. "But passing the bill also gives Republicans plenty of ammunition and folks who are angry about that bill, who feel that the bill is bigger government and higher taxes and more bureaucracy, those are the kinds of people who will vote in a midterm election. So either way the democrats are kind of damned if they do and damned if they don't."
The other problem for the Democrats this year is an internal battle. Liberals in the party say the president and mainstream congressional democrats have abandoned their promises, especially on health care reform, by ditching the so-called public insurance option.
Justin Rubin is the executive director of MoveOn.org, the progressive grass-roots organization credited for helping sweep Barack Obama into office in 2008. He says his members feel betrayed.
"It looks more like business as usual in Washington, and I think it's really disappointing to lots of folks who came out in November and voted for change," Rubin says.
And it's not that these voters would mark their ballots for Republicans in this year's midterm elections. But if they're not inspired and mobilized like they were in 2008 -- like the conservative tea party movement is now -- the fear is that these voters won't show up at the polls, and they definitely won't sign up to be Democratic foot soldiers.
"If Democrats are out the fighting every day for working folks and taking on the special interests I think MoveOn members and millions of other folks who came out in 2008 will be back out in 2010. It's really up to what Democrats do over the next few months."