The latest AP/Ipsos poll (run this past Monday through Wednesday) still shows Democrats with a 20% advantage when voters are asked which party they’d like to see controlling Congress next year.
Add to this the fact that a full 70% of Americans see the country headed down the wrong track.
Which is all good news. And informative news, when thinking through the Welch/Rainville match-up.
From the beginning the Rainville campaign has seemed to have no clearly articulated policy agenda; their issue statements have been almost entirely reactive in nature, driven by the day’s news or steps taken by the Welch camp.
And no doubt a year or eighteen months ago, that made good sense: they had Martha Rainville, an attractive female General, rumored to be liberal on social issues, a woman linked inextricably in the public mind with the funerals of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice, a woman originally courted by both major parties.
They had a sure-fire political brand, the kind of brand with a 30-year shelf-life.
At that point, Rainville’s handlers and backers must have worried — above all else — about protecting that brand, keeping it from getting scuffed up. No policy statements, no real hard-core campaigning, certainly no debates or unfriendly venues.
At that point, a day where Martha said nothing and did nothing was supposed to be a good day for Martha.
But this latest poll reinforces what has been palpable for at least a year now: Americans want change, structural change, and change directed specifically at kitchen-table issues and the war in Iraq. They want a Congress with the power to curb an inept and power-hungry administration.
And according to state-by-state polling, only in Rhode Island do people want those things more than in the state of Vermont.
Not a good year to be stuck with a candidate who has identified specifically with very little, a candidate who has thus far managed only to weakly echo others — the Bush administration when called upon to do so (Guard troops to the Southern border), the GOP leadership on fundraising matters, and even Peter Welch himself, when Welch’s positions have proven irresistible with voters (the firing of Donald Rumsfeld).
In our interview with Welch, we asked whether the troops should come home this year. Yes, he said. Should we have permanent bases in Iraq? No, he said. Should Rumsfeld be fired? Tomorrow, was the answer. Rainville has yet to develop a sharp answer to any of these three pressing questions; on each of them, she offers a paragraph or two or three of high-flown straddle.
When Welch was selected by the Democratic leadership to offer an Iraq-themed response to the President’s weekly radio address, Rainville rushed out a pre-buttle, and in it she was forced to play her hole card early: “My opponent and I have vastly different backgrounds. I have 27 years of military experience and have been in the field while he’s been a career politician with no military experience,” ran the first two lines. Again, there was no attempt to debate the policy, no attempt to offer a specific approach.
Wearing the uniform should be enough, Rainville implied.
It isn’t enough, Martha. Not in 2006. Not by a longshot.
Specificity and clarity of purpose are the watchwords this time around. Welch has dignified the debate with both those things, and the numbers continue to suggest that ultimately he’ll be rewarded for doing so.
Which, ironically enough, will be the worst thing for the Rainville brand imaginable.