Playing the expectations game

The Times' Adam Nagourney goes first: Democrats lose no matter what happens tonight.

Published November 7, 2006 4:04PM (EST)

When George W. Bush won reelection in 2004, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney wrote of a "decisive national election" that "rocked the political landscape in Washington" and represented a "striking turn in fortunes for the nation's 43rd president."

Can you imagine what Nagourney will say tomorrow about the Democrats?

Actually, you don't have to. Nagourney has a preview today, and the headline says it all: "For Democrats, Even a Gain May Feel Like a Failure."

Nagourney says that the Bush White House "would no doubt relish trying to weaken its new Congressional foes by portraying a small Democratic edge as a loss." Nagourney seems to be standing by to help: By his way of thinking, the Democrats will suffer a sorry plight pretty much no matter how well they end up doing tonight.

"The obvious best outcome for Democrats would be to win control of both houses, allowing them to claim a public mandate," Nagourney writes. "But unless they somehow control 60 votes in the Senate -- which, not to be setting any expectations here, is not going to happen -- they will have to work with Republicans to pass legislation. If they win the House by a large margin but do not get the Senate, they will also no doubt claim something of a mandate, though that would seem to be a recipe for gridlock."

To be fair to Nagourney, he's right about one thing: The expectations for Democrats are so high now that it will be easy enough for the White House and the press to spin anything less than control of both houses as a loss. The press will quickly forget that Ken Mehlman, Karl Rove, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have all predicted unequivocally that Republicans will hold on to both houses of Congress. They'll remember what Nagourney calls the "galloping optimism by Democratic leaders and bloggers."

"Galloping optimism"? We haven't been tracking the projections from "Democratic leaders," but we've got a pretty good sense of what this side of the blogosphere is predicting. MyDD's Chris Bowers: Democrats pick up 23-29 seats in the House, five in the Senate. Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas Zúniga: Democrats pick up 24 seats in the House -- 36 if there's a wave -- and six in the Senate. Booman Tribune: Democrats pick up 30-36 seats in the House, five in the Senate. Atrios: Democrats pick up 18 seats in the House, four in the Senate. War Room: We've predicted that the Democrats will pick up between three and five seats in the Senate; we'll go with something like a 20-seat pickup in the House.

The rough average of these bloggy prognostications: Democrats pick up about 24 seats in the House and five in the Senate. Is that "galloping optimism" by crazy liberal bloggers? Not so much, apparently. Nagourney himself says that the "rough consensus among officials in both parties" is that the Democrats "would win the House but come just short of capturing the six seats they needed in the Senate."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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