WASHINGTON — An already difficult situation for Democrats in Congress is worsening as the 2010 political season opens.
To minimize expected losses in next fall's election, President Obama's party is testing a line of attack that resurrects George W. Bush as a bogeyman and castigates Republicans as cozy with Wall Street.
Four House Democrats from swing districts have recently chosen not to seek re-election, bringing to 11 the number of retirements that could leave Democratic-held seats vulnerable to Republicans. More Democratic retirements are expected.
Over the holiday break, another Democrat, freshman Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama, defected to the GOP. "I can no longer align myself with a party that continues to pursue legislation that is bad for our country, hurts our economy, and drives us further and further into debt," said Griffith, who voted against Democrats' three biggest initiatives in 2009: health care, financial regulation and reducing global warming.
In the Senate, at least four Democrats — including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and five-term Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd — are in serious trouble. The party could also lose its grip on seats Obama held in Illinois and Vice President Joe Biden long occupied in Delaware.
Going into 2010, Democrats held a 257-178 majority in the House and an effective 60-40 majority in the Senate, including two independents who align themselves with Democrats.
But they face an incumbent-hostile electorate worried about a 10 percent unemployment rate, weary of wars and angry at politicians of all stripes. Many independents who backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008 have turned away. Republicans, meanwhile, are energized and united in opposing Obama's policies.
The one thing that heartens Democrats is that voters also don't think much of the GOP, which is bleeding backers, lacking a leader and facing a conservative revolt.