Democrats Face Uncertain Future

Obama speaks at a town hall-style meeting at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio i i

President Obama is likely to have the state of his Democratic Party in mind when he delivers the State of the Union speech Wednesday. Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Dharapak/AP
Obama speaks at a town hall-style meeting at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio

President Obama is likely to have the state of his Democratic Party in mind when he delivers the State of the Union speech Wednesday.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Shakespeare might have had the Democrats in mind when he wrote in Hamlet that sorrows "come not in single spies but in battalions."

In his address Wednesday, President Obama is as much concerned about the state of his party in the wake of the stunning loss of Ted Kennedy's seat as he is about the State of the Union. In The Hill newspaper Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that Massachusetts may have changed the math in the congressional lineup, but "we will fight on."

"Fight" has become a chosen word in Democratic parlance. In his speech in Ohio last week, reacting to the loss of the Massachusetts seat, the president used the word "fight" or "fighting" a total of 22 times, and one can expect a combative president Wednesday embracing a disaffected electorate.

But the impact of Massachusetts is becoming evident. Joseph "Beau" Biden III has suddenly bowed out of the race for his father's Senate seat; Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry has announced his retirement; and up to a dozen other House members are reportedly considering an exit strategy.

The Massachusetts setback came not singly, but after the Democrats had lost the governorship of New Jersey and Virginia. The immediate effect was to inspire the almost-leaderless Republicans, although opinion polls indicate that disillusionment with Democrats does not add up to an embrace of Republicans.

The voters are in a "plague on both your houses" mood, but it is the Democrats, still formally in command of Congress, who need help if anything is to be enacted, from health care reform to a freeze on domestic spending.

For the president, this represents a special challenge. In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, he said that he would rather be "a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."

The question is whether resurgent Republicans, and even independents, will allow him to be an effective president.

In these volatile times, change could come quickly. But for now, these seem like dark days for Democrats.

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