Basically, there are two ways that an elected politician can run for re-election:
A) The High Road approach, where the incumbent candidate reminds the voters of the positive changes in their lives the incumbent's actions and policies have made.
B) The Not-So-High Road route, when voters are unable to see positive changes in their lives during the incumbent's term so the candidate for re-election seeks to focus the electorate's attention on the defects and weirdness of his opponent. This, I call the "I May Be No Day at the Beach, but the Other Guy Is No Month in the Country."
For too many obvious reasons, Democrats running for re-election in 2010 are generally skipping Option A and going directly to Option B.
Understand that on the eve of the most recent midterm election in 2006, when the Democrats were about to win control of the U.S. House for the first time in 12 years, voters -- according to the Gallup Poll -- held a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party by a 52 percent to 38 percent margin. Today, just 43 percent of voters feel favorably toward the Democrats, while 52 percent harbor unfavorable feelings.
True, the Republican numbers are worse. They have actually fallen slightly from their 2006 low of 37 percent favorable and 55 percent unfavorable to 36 percent favorable and 58 percent unfavorable today. But that is of no consolation to the Democrats, who -- as dyspeptic voters all know -- are in charge, controlling the White House and both the House and the Senate.
If real estate is all about location, location, location, then midterm elections are all about turnout, turnout, turnout. There is no more reliable predictor of voter turnout than the relative enthusiasm and interest of both parties' voters. With less than five moths until Election Day, the enthusiasm gap among voters is decisively in the Republicans' favor.
Not surprisingly, the GOP wants 2010 to be a straightforward referendum on the Democrats' stewardship. Voters who just 14 months ago saw the nation headed "in the right direction" rather than "off on the wrong track" by 50 percent to 48 percent in the most recent Washington Post-ABC News survey now see the U.S. headed "in the wrong direction" by 60 percent to 37 percent. Democrats, who cannot win a referendum, have to instead make the 2010 campaign a choice between the two parties and their respective records and allies.
There is probably no more representative race of the 2010 election year than the Nevada Senate race, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with job-approval numbers in the 30s, is seeking a fifth Senate term.
The state's unemployment rate has just set a record high at 13.7 percent, and Nevada leads the nation in both bankruptcies and foreclosures. Reid could not win an up-or-down vote on whether he deserves another six years in Washington. But just because Reid cannot "win" re-election, do not bet against him. In last Tuesday's Nevada primary, Reid got the Republican opponent he most wanted to run against, Sharron Angle, an unreconstructed conservative with tea party backing.
Maybe Reid cannot win, but Sharron Angle can most certainly lose. She advocates a "free market alternative"' that "phases out the Social Security system" and the abolition of the IRS code, the U.S. departments of education and energy, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.
But challenger Angle's greatest liability may turn out to be her plan to convert Yucca Mountain into a "profitable center for reprocessing" nuclear waste. This, in a state where candidates from both parties have pledged to keep their state from becoming a repository for spent nuclear fuel.
Harry Reid's unstated campaign premise: I may be no day at the beach, but she is most definitely no month in the country. That will be the blueprint for Democratic candidates in 2010 trying to avoid a Republican wave.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.