Pundit foresees tough year for Democrats

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

In a wide-ranging discussion in Denver last week, Charlie Cook, national political expert and publisher of the nonpartisan online Cook Political Report, said President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are losing the battle over health care insurance reform.

Charlie Cook

Furthermore, Cook predicted that when Democrats return to Washington, D.C., next week after their long August recess, they’ll be less likely to support the health care reform package moving through the House than they were before coming home to blistering town hall meetings and protests.

“A lot of them will be more nervous about sticking their necks out,” Cook said.

During an hour-long discussion at the LoDo Tattered Cover Book Store attended by 150 people and sponsored by the American Association of Retired Citizens, Cook said the Obama administration erred in trying to pass too much sweeping legislation at a time when the public’s trust in government is very low. As a result, he said, Obama’s public approval ratings have declined sharply, and now hover at around 50 percent.

“I think we desperately need changes to our health care system,” Cook said. “But, I wonder if President Obama (had waited) to pass health care reform and the climate change legislation until after the recession how different things would be today. In retrospect, I wonder if the public trust in government to get this done has been eroded by the (financial collapse) of last year.”

That lack of trust also may be a driving factor behind the public’s apparent lack of support for proposed reform now moving through Congress.

“There was a feeling in the Obama administration that Congress should have a hand in writing the bill,” Cook said. “But (doing that) was seen as outsourcing important domestic policy to an institution that doesn’t have a lot of credibility and to leaders who don’t have a lot of (support).”

Perhaps coincidentally, not quite a week after Cook spoke in Denver, national media outlets began reporting that Obama planned to take the reins of the health care legislation and offer firm guidance on what the package should include.

But unfortunately for the Democrats, the bad news didn’t stop with health care reform.

Cook said the predicted failure of the health care reform package, combined with the recent success of Republicans in discrediting the Obama administration’s liberal spending, could lead to sweeping Democratic losses in the House in 2010.

“It was inevitable the Democrats were going to lose some seats in Congress,” he said. “You don’t pick up as many seats as they did in the last election without moving in the other direction. Before, (I predicted that) they were going to lose 10, 12 maybe 14 seats in the House. But now I think it could be much more.”

After talking politics on a national level, Cook took questions from the audience, including one concerning the vulnerability of Colorado Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and 4th Congressional District Rep. Betsy Markey, a Democrat from Fort Collins.

Cook said he expects Bennet to face a challenging election in 2010, if only because national Republican resources lack easier targets.

“The GOP has to go after some Democratic seats in the Senate, and I think Bennet will be one of them,” Cook said. “(He) is in a swing state.”

Although Cook predicted a tough road ahead for Bennet, he said the “bloodbath” for Democrats in 2010 will come in the U.S. House, not the Senate. He predicted that the GOP would go after freshman Democratic Congresswoman Markey, who in 2008 easily defeated Republican U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave to take the swing district, which has frequently gone to the GOP.

“Markey is in a district that is 6 percent more Republican than the country as a whole,” Cook said. “When you are in a district that tilts GOP and your party is having a bad year, you are exposed.”

Jason@coloradostatesman.com