Sanders, Cruz Soldier On; A Year of Opportunity for Democrats?

If current polling holds tomorrow night and Cruz and Sanders prevail in Wisconsin, it will give them a vital boost heading into a very important stretch where the terrain looks less favorable for them – New York on April 19th and then the Northeastern “Super Tuesday” of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island on April 26th. Polls from the past few days show Trump with large leads in these late April delegate rich contests, while Clinton retains about a 10 point lead in New York. So while each frontrunner may take another hit this week, April could be the month where both Trump and Clinton finally put their race away.

Having said that, these last few weeks have been challenging ones for both frontrunners. Sanders racked up big wins in recent states, and had another impressive record breaking fundraising month in March. Video of Clinton in an angry exchange with a voter got her off message this week, and the campaign has yet to really find its footing again. Recent Trumpian interviews with the Washington Post and New York Times have been disastrous for him, reinforcing not just his radicalism and misogyny but his extraordinary ignorance of global and domestic affairs. Polling showing him slipping behind Cruz in Wisconsin raises questions about whether we are beginning to see evidence of a broader Trump weakening (Tues am - NBC/Survey Monkey finds evidence of some Trump slippage this week). I remain unconvinced that Cruz or Kasich at this point are strong enough or capable enough to take full advantage of a potential Trump stumble, and am keeping my money on the one with the hair to prevail outright on the 1st ballot in Cleveland.

As of press time, the Sanders and Clinton campaigns had not resolved their differences to settle on a date and place for a promised 9th debate. This is an unfortunate occurrence, as people voting in April, May and June deserve their own fresh debates. I put the blame for this debilitating squabble squarely on the DNC (Democratic Party), whose original, inadequate schedule had the last English language debate taking place on February 11th, when only 2 of the 50 states would have voted. Remarkably, when confronted with the inadequacy of the schedule, the DNC repeatedly ruled out adding any additional debate beyond this early February one, suggesting that DNC expected/wanted the primary to end in March not June. The reason these debates are negotiated upfront, long before the voting begins, is to avoid exactly what is happening now – in the heat of battle both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns are having to spend time negotiating with one another (no easy thing), and fighting this out in the media rather than talking about the issues that will drive the fall election. That we are even talking about this at this point is a sign of the extraordinary mismanagement of the debate schedule by the DNC this cycle (Tues am - the two sides agreed to next Thursday, April 14th for a Brooklyn debate). 

A Year of Opportunity for Democrats? Several reports this week signaled that the election could be shaping up to be a year of opportunity for Democrats. A new report from Gallup found Party ID starting to break open for Democrats, moving from 42/42 in October to 46/40 today. (see the graph below). Gallup’s daily track of the President’s approval rating, a key shaper of broader public opinion, has been consistently finding Obama in the low 50s, even hitting 53% this past week. Both the 46% Party ID and 53% Presidential approval are highs for the President’s second term, and suggest a very favorable environment for the Democrats this fall. 

A new poll by Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corps found similar movement toward Democrats, away from the Republicans and early indications that key elements of the Democrat coalition have begun to become far more engaged in the election. House specific questions yielded similar results, suggesting that the movement towards Democrats we are seeing could extend below the Presidential level. As my own recent analysis of this year's electoral map showed, Presidential success for the Democrats in 2016 is likely to have a disproportionate impact on the battle for the Senate and House, potentially even putting the House in play.

Despite the rancor of this tough political year, it could very well be that these numbers reflect the public giving credit to the President and the Democrats for a job well done.  Millions more are working today, and wages have begun to tick up; annual deficits are a third of what they were, and interest rates remain low; the President's health care reform has insured 20m people in just its first few years and health care costs have slowed; the global energy paradigm is changing in ways good for the planet and the United States; and while the world remains a challenging and difficult place, far fewer Americans are dying today than during the previous President's terms, diplomacy has been introduced into the Middle East, the President has advanced a far reaching plan for Asia anchored in his hard fought TPP, etc.   Much has gone right these past 7 years, and the country is stronger for it.  There can be little doubt that this record of achievement will be used effectively by many Democrats this fall to help draw a stark contrast with a generation of ineffectiveness and ideological extremism on the other side. 

So, yes, this data is early, and much can happen. But every election takes on a specific set of characteristics as the cycle unfolds. And at this point, there is a growing body of evidence that this could be a year of enormous opportunity for Democrats to not just win the Presidency but to make up valuable ground lost in the very tough 2010 and 2014 midterms.

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.