Josh Kurtz: Tomorrow Never Knows

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Here in deep-blue Maryland, where Democrats are going to sweep the statewide elections and maintain their huge majorities in the legislature, it’s hard to fathom the red storm that is taking place out in the real world.

But make no mistake: We will wake up Wednesday morning to a very different political reality. Just four years after Democrats seized control of Congress, and two years after Barack Obama had the best Democratic showing in a presidential election since the LBJ landslide of 1964, Republicans are poised to flip at least 60 seats in the House of Representatives (they need to net 39 to win back the majority).

Despite what most pundits are saying, they may also take back the Senate.

And equally devastating for Democrats is that Republicans are going to pick up most of the gubernatorial seats in the swing states that matter a lot during presidential elections and the redistricting process.

In short, if you’re a Democrat, your party’s screw-up couldn’t have come at a worse time – or have longer-lasting implications.

The rapidity of the Democrats’ demise at the national level has been breathtaking to behold – and ominous. When voters threw the bums out on Election Day 1994, Peter Jennings of ABC News famously said that they had had “a temper tantrum.”

But now temper tantrums, after the third wave election in a row, are the norm. Who’s to say it won’t happen again in 2012? That may be the Democrats’ best hope – or their worst fear. Who will be the victim of the voters’ venom then?

There are two bitter ironies about this political turn of events.

Irony No. 1 is that Republicans are going to win big even though nobody likes them. Survey after survey shows that the GOP “brand” is badly damaged, and most voters will readily agree that George W. Bush drove the economy into a ditch. No less a GOP eminence than Jeb Bush told the New York Times the other day that the big showing on the horizon “is not a validation of the Republican Party at all.” That sure says a lot about how far Obama and the Democrats have fallen.

The other irony concerns perceptions about what the Republican Party is really about.

Democrats have been wringing their hands for months over the rise of the Tea Party, and with good reason – there’s some scary stuff out there.

But listen up, liberal elites. You should acknowledge the legitimacy of the conservatives’ anger, and credit them for harnessing that grass-roots outrage into some kind of credible political force. There are lessons to be learned there, no doubt – even if there is a nativist, racist bent to some of the most extreme elements of the Tea Party movement.

Yet grass-roots anger, even if it’s fueled by political beliefs that don’t necessarily dove-tail with your own, has some value. At least people are paying attention and rising up to do something.

And it isn’t the Tea Party that’s really in charge of the GOP. The more worrisome thing about the Republican gains is how thoroughly in control of the party – and the nation – big-monied interests now are.

The presumptive Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio), is routinely lampooned for his perma-tan. Sure, he’s no doubt soaking up some artificial rays at a tanning bed. But the main reason he’s so tan is that he’s spending so much time on the golf course with his lobbyist buddies. His entire kitchen cabinet works on K Street.

Or take Roy Blunt, the former House minority whip who is about to be elected to a Senate seat in Missouri. He is literally in bed with a tobacco lobbyist – was having a relationship with her before he divorced his wife of 35 years, tried to slip a provision into a homeland security bill that would benefit her employer, and later married her.

And one of the Republican heroes of this election cycle is Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who heads the Republican Governors Association and is looking very seriously at running for president in 2012. He was, after all, a professional lobbyist before he became governor – and the D.C. firm that bears his name, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, is still one of the biggest in town.

If Barbour runs for president, he’ll instantly become one of the Republican frontrunners. Say all you want about Sarah Palin – she attracts a ton of media and public attention and sucks up a lot of the oxygen in today’s political discourse. But it is Barbour, the cigar-chomping lobbyist with the southern drawl whose politics are just conservative enough to satisfy the base, who really epitomizes the modern GOP.

So there’s the irony. The people who run the GOP, the people riding the wave of Tea Party anger, really have nothing in common with the Tea Party activists at all. And yet it’s the Tea Party – a grass-roots movement helped along by billionaires in the energy industry and others chafing at Obama regulatory policy – that is credited with being the dominant new force in this country.

Here in Maryland, we can only watch in wonder. As the drama plays out on the national stage over the next several months, as Obama and Congressional Democrats try to reinvent themselves and struggle to adapt to the new political environment, the preoccupation among political junkies here will be redistricting and the early jockeying for the 2014 gubernatorial election, which should start almost immediately.

Too soon? Yes.

It’s almost enough to make you wish that Maryland was “America in miniature” on the political front.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Previous Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

To Be Frank (Part 2)

The More Things Change....

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Polls Apart

Van Hollen's Burden

Not Rhee-a-listic

Tomorrow’s Headlines Today!

20th Century Comes to Baltimore County

Primary Colors

Murphy the Smurf

A Gene for Public Service

No Agnew Here

The Full Montgomery

Shock and Tawes

Uly's Gold

Death and Deadlines

Bad News for Democrats From Washington to Washington County

Mr. Smith Goes ... Where?

End of the Line for Vallario?

Mission: Control

Post Plays Favorites

Red Storm Rising

Michael & Me

Wanted: Fresh Blood


Black and Blue?


Take Me Back to Old Virginny

The Political Lives of Peter Franchot

Bob and Weave

How to Make Prince George's County King

Kane is Able

To Be Frank

Gay Rights and Political Wrongs?

The Washington Post Goes to War

Snow Job

Unsolicited Advice for Ehrlich — Wait Till 2014

The Early Bird Gets the Worm?

Wayne's World May Be Another Planet

Miller Time Comes Early

Owings Owes an Explanation
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.