Why are Democrats headed for such a bad day eight days hence?
Is it dispirited liberals? Secret campaign spending from conservatives to "fool" voters? The unavoidable result of the Bush economy? A lack of "marketing" and "PR" from the White House about the legislative achievements of the past two years?
Those are all reasons being put forward by Democrats as to why the party is being tossed about on the electoral waves, but none really get to the heart of the problem.
At the center of it all is that the policies of the party since taking total control of Washington have angered independent voters while galvanizing conservative opposition.
What Democrats are doing now would be like a man who was about to get stung 100 times after whacking a hornets' nest with a broom handle thinking of why it isn't his fault. If his wife had bought the bug spray... If his son had cleaned the eaves while cleaning the gutters... Global warming has lengthened nest-building season... If only the hornets were really butterflies... and so on.
The Obama Democrats were the ones who swung the broom at the nest and now, as the stings approach, they are eager for it not to be a result of their political judgment and their policies. It's understandable because admitting failures on the former would mean ceding ground in the ideological war with the right and admitting failures on the latter would mean ceding ground back to moderates in their own party.
But it doesn't change the fact that independent voters have swung some 20 points away from Democrats after the party's huge success with the all-important segment of the electorate in 2008. It can unavoidably be attributed to a candidate who offered cool centrism on the trail but governed from the left.
All of the underlying reasons for the hornet stings may be true (midterms usually hurt the party in power) or false (Obama gave dozens of speeches touting his health care agenda), but it doesn't change the fact that somebody decided to whack the nest.
Republicans took a pasting in 2006 not because of liberal media bias or George Soros, but because the party had committed itself to the Iraq war, which had become direly unpopular, and then sunk into scandal in Congress. The other things may have been force multipliers for Democrats, but it didn't change the underlying problems - Iraq and scandal.
As Democrats ramble to the end of this election season, the central rationalization for looming losses has been fixed on the evils of outside donors and the shadowy network of political professionals who direct the cash to races.
Today's New York Times has yet another piece that talks about the unimpressive Alexandria office space used by the Rovian American Crossroads group and other coordinated outfits. What do reporters expect? A factory floor where they assemble talking points?
But the point of the piece, like all the others, is to suggest that the money spent in this unimpressive space will somehow be to blame for a bunch of Democratic losses.
Power Play has had the pleasure (and occasional displeasure) of knowing many political professionals. And while they are very different individuals, most are united by a belief that the work they do is what wins and loses elections.
That's sometimes true, but usually in the "loses elections" sense.
The Times today quotes Rob Collins who could not resist bragging to the paper that his group, American Action Network "carpet-bombed for two months in 82 races, now it's sniper time."
Aside from making it into the next NPR story about the use of violent terms and images by conservatives in politics, Collins helped the newspaper suggest that the reason Rep. Suzanne Kosmas is heading for potential defeat is that groups like his are spending money against her.
Kosmas, a freshman who knocked off a three-term GOP incumbent, is in trouble because she voted against the wishes of the resident's of Florida's 24th district, a modestly Republican swath of the Atlantic coast south of Dayton Beach.
Yes, outside spending may keep challenger Sandy Adams from getting swept away by the well-financed incumbent, but it's not the reason she's winning. She's winning because Kosmas turned out to be too liberal for the district.
Seeing trouble so long in advance may not be able to prevent a calamity with voters for Democrat, but it has given the party ample time to place blame.
Thanks to today's Power Play crew: Kimberly Schwandt, April Girouard, Lee Ross, L.A. Holmes, Bree Tracy, Molly Mathews, Jason Donner, Gretchen Gailey and Molly Mathews.
The Day in Quotes
"What we can fairly conclude, even before the votes are counted on November 2, is that America is not interested in becoming France."
-- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a speech to the West Virginia Republican Party.
"Reaching as far as they did in the weeds of the bill that we didn't know about, no one else knew about until it came out - knowing that, I would not have supported that or voted for that at that time."
-- Joe Manchin, West Virginia Governor and Democratic Senate candidate, on "Fox News Sunday" saying he didn't understand key details of the health care reform legislation when he publicly endorsed it in March."Bob, I don't remember you having a program in 2000, when the NAACP spent $10 million from one single donor running ads, anonymously contributed, attacking George W. Bush. Suddenly, everybody's gotten spun up about it this year when Republicans have started to follow what the Democrats have been doing and create 501(c)(4)s which can use less than half their money for express advocacy...Once we copied what liberals did, liberals got upset."
-- Karl Rove to CBS's Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation
"I was very disappointed in some, particularly Karl [Rove] and others, who were so dismissive of Christine O'Donnell."
-- Mike Huckabee on Aaron Klein's WABC radio show.
"I do. I do."
DNC Chairman Tim Kaine when asked on "This Week" if he thinks Democrats will maintain control of the House.
"No, I'm not irrelevant. And God bless Fred Barnes. If he had only called me and talked to me, I would have shared with him some very interesting information. It's easy to write that without knowledge and, clearly, he is without knowledge here..."
-- Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on "Meet the Press" when asked about a Wall Street Journal op-ed from Fred Barnes questioning Steele's leadership."I've never had a heckler at the debate. I've always had them in the audience."
-- Florida Republican Senate nominee Marco Rubio on CNN's State of the Union trying to answer a question through interruptions from Charlie Crist.
"That's the way it is. Welcome to the NFL."
-- Florida Independent Senate candidate Charlie Crist's response."The president likes to say that when you want to drive forward you put your car in D, and when you want to go in reverse you put it in R. It's a clever line, but when you're speeding toward a cliff, you don't want to keep the car in drive."
-- Sen. John Thune (R-SD) delivering the weekly Republican radio address.
"We know what he's shoveling and it's not asphalt."
-- Sarah Palin on the Obama stimulus program at a Republican rally in Orlando, Fla.
"They think that if they tell you often enough that you're not doing well that you won't go to the polls. But we're not buying that malarkey. If Detroit turns out as it has in the past, we win."
-- Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) at a sparsely attended campaign rally featuring Bill Clinton for gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero.
"I like all this enthusiasm, but frankly there are a few things about this election that have gotten me somewhere between disturbed and ticked off."
-- Former President Bill Clinton, quoted by CNN, at a rally for Rep. John Dingell (D-MI)."People were clamoring and very excited about the change that then-candidate Obama promised America. Now I see lethargy at best and disgust at worst."
-- Gay rights activist Rick Garcia of the group Equality Illinois to the Associated Press.
"It's a battle to the end. But only 20 months ago, Republicans were viewed like mold - not really alive, but you couldn't kill us either. We've come back."
-- Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) to the New York Times.
Scandal Sheets - Drug Charges Further Cloud Conway's Chances; Miller Regrets Logging On
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway was informed about a drug investigation that was underway against his brother, then a prosecuting attorney in Louisville.
As Conway heads into his final Senate debate tonight with Republican Rand Paul, the revelation about his brother's case may overwhelm the previous Conway controversy, an ad that questioned Paul's Christian faith because of his membership in a college society on 1984.
The Louisville Courier Journal reports that Matthew Conway, then a prosecutor for Jefferson County, was tipped off by two narcotics detectives about the beginnings of two separate drug cases against him in 2008 and 2010.
The paper reports that Jack Conway, the state's chief law enforcement officer, was informed of the investigations by a supporter who was told by another officer that Matt Conway was "dirty." The candidate's office says the attorney general only advised his brother to get a lawyer as a result of that knowledge.
Case files show that not only did Matt Conway get inside knowledge of the investigations, but that police gave him two days advance notice before serving a search warrant at his Louisville home.
The Conway brothers met with Matt Conway's lawyer together before the case went public. Officials told the paper that both prosecutions were abandoned after the inside information was released.
Conway, who has already become a bit snappish about the criticism about his ad questioning Paul's Christianity, is expected to face even tougher questions about his involvement in his brother's legal affairs.Miller's Firewall Breached
Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller was suspended from his part-time job as a Fairbanks city attorney for three days for using a government computer to participate in an online survey of state Republicans.
Miller went public with his story at a debate Sunday after telling reporters that he would no longer answer questions about his personal life following illegal leaks - and even going so far as to have a security detail to detain any members of the press who got too pushy.
Alaska reporters went to court to get Miller's employment records made public after documents suggesting a past problem were leaked to the press. A judge has set the release for Tuesday, barring an appeal by Miller.
Miller said it was private poll taken during his lunch hour and a "mistake."
Trail Riders - Biden in for Grayson; Strickland Surge?; Bubba Stumps for Obama's Pet Project
Obama's Day - Rescue Mission for Alan Grayson
Vice President Biden today will make a campaign appearance for Rep. Alan Grayson, the Orlando area Democrat who has received broad condemnation for his campaign this year - particularly for an ad that called his challenger, Daniel Webster "Taliban Dan."
Grayson's one term in Congress has been dominated by a string of controversies, including his allegation on the House floor that Republicans want sick people to "die quickly." Grayson has lagged Webster in public polls by considerable margins despite huge campaign spending by the self-funding trial lawyer.
The primary consideration for most campaign stops by the president and vice president this year has been whether it would hurt the candidate to have one of them there. In this case, Biden, who is traveling to Orlando for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, might have considered the reverse.
After the Grayson event, Biden will head to New Hampshire, where he'll raise money for House candidate Ann Kuster, who has never, to the knowledge of Power Play, equated her opponent, former Rep. Charlie Bass, with any Central Asian dictatorial regimes.
President Obama, meanwhile, will travel to Rhode Island, one of the bluest blue states. He'll get a free ride there because of an official visit to a rope maker in Woonsocket, but then heads to a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee event in nearby Warwick.
Obama is there on behalf of David Cicilline, the mayor of Providence, running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Patrick Kennedy. But Republican candidate John Loughlin is getting some help today, too. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) will be in the district campaigning also.
First lady Michelle Obama will take Jill Biden along for two West Coast fundraisers - a luncheon for Sen. Patty Murray in Seattle and a DCCC event hosted by Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco.
Bubba Stumps - Clinton to Rally for Giannoulias
Former President Bill Clinton will rally for Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias on Tuesday. The hotel ballroom rally is aimed at encouraging early voting.
Poll Check - Is Strickland Surging?
The University of Cincinnati's new poll for Ohio newspapers had Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich leading incumbent Ted Strickland by only 2 points, down from an 8-point advantage a week ago.
The FOX News battleground state polls have been very consistent for five weeks, showing Kasich with a lead of 5 points or 6 points - except for Sept. 25, when Kasich led by 2 points.
While the gubernatorial race has been closer than the lopsided Senate contest in Ohio -- the University of Cincinnati poll showed GOPer Rob Portman leading Democrat Lee Fisher by 19 points - Kasich has had the lead since June and will benefit from Portman's powerhouse performance. Strickland also has to survive another visit from President Obama on Sunday.
Power Play will have new FOX News battleground numbers from Ohio on Tuesday.
Muhlenberg College: Pennsylvania Senate - Toomey (R) 47, Sestak (D) 42; Pennsylvania Governor - Corbett (R) 49, Onorato (D) 41
Mason-Dixon: Illinois Senate -- Kirk (R) 43, Giannoulias (D) 41; Illinois Governor -- Brady (R) 44, Quinn (D) 40; Obama State Job Approval at 51
Stat Shot - Uncool Numbers for Dems
Rock the Vote, the youth voting organization that proved such a boon to then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008 by signing up 2.5 million first-time voters has released the results of its 2010 registration drive: 280,000.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.