Blast From the Past: The Current Political World Mirrors 2009

    Republicans sensed eight years ago that Democrats were well on their way to political disaster. And in Massachusetts, they were seeing convincing evidence of a sea change in the political world.

    Mr. Brown, a Republican state senator at the time, was showing real strength in the race to replace Senator Edward M. Kennedy, whose seat was left vacant after his death in August 2009. Democrats could not quite fathom the possibility that a Republican could win in liberal Massachusetts and succeed Mr. Kennedy, the party’s longtime leader on health policy, at such a crucial point in the health care fight.

    But Republicans were quickly persuaded.

    “That was when it really, really hit me that things were changing,” said Rob Jesmer, a top Republican strategist who was running the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Mr. Brown went on in early January to beat Martha M. Coakley, the Democratic state attorney general who backed the Obama agenda and made several costly political missteps.

    This year it is Roy S. Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in deeply conservative Alabama, who is in trouble in a race that should be a gimme in such a state. Multiple accusations against Mr. Moore of sexual abuse and pursuit of teenage girls while an adult have opened the door to the previously unthinkable idea that Mr. Jones, a former federal prosecutor, could claim the seat on Dec. 12. That outcome would cut the Republican majority to 51, give Democrats a real chance to compete for Senate control next year and make it tougher to pass the tax bill this year.

    While Senate Republicans hope to pass their version of the tax bill as early as next week, it would still have to be reconciled with the House plan. If Mr. Jones wins, Republicans could then afford to lose only one vote if he were seated before any final approval. Multiple Republicans remain uncommitted on the tax plan.

    It is quite reminiscent of what happened when Mr. Brown’s election in January 2010 upended Democratic plans for the health care bill, which had passed the Senate on Christmas Eve. The victory by Mr. Brown, who campaigned against the health care law, deprived Democrats of the crucial 60th vote to break a filibuster. As a result, the House had to ultimately accept the Senate version of the law, preventing Democrats from making changes that would have avoided some of the problems that later dogged the legislation.


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    Democrats say the tax bill being pushed by Republicans desperate for their first big legislative accomplishment could blow up on them just as the health care bill cost Democrats.

    “They think this is their salvation, but it is most likely their Alamo,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.

    Mr. Van Hollen has experience with political backlash: He was the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when his party lost 63 seats and control of the House in 2010. Now he is the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, at a time when Republicans are back on their heels.


    If Doug Jones, a Democrat, wins the special Senate election next month in Alabama, the Republican majority would be cut to 51.

    Audra Melton for The New York Times

    Mr. Van Hollen said one difference he saw between the two election cycles was that Republicans suffered deeper losses up and down the ballot in off-year elections this month than Democrats did in 2009.

    “We knew we were facing a big headwind, but it wasn’t clear how big it was going to be,” Mr. Van Hollen said. He said Republicans now confronted a “killer political wave.”

    “The only question is whether it is going to grow bigger or shrink between now and November 2018,” he said.

    Despite warnings of a possible political calamity if they passed the health care law, Democrats plunged ahead and paid the price.

    Mr. Jesmer said that despite political risks posed by the tax bill, which had not polled well and aimed most of its benefits at the business community rather than at middle-class earners, Republicans had little choice but to persevere.

    “I don’t fault us for doing what we are trying to do,” he said. “The out-party is always going to have the advantage in the midterms, so you might as well ram through what you want to ram through.”


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    Republicans do not think the tax bill will be a political albatross once voters gain a fuller appreciation of its advantages. Of course, that is exactly what Democrats thought about the health care bill at this point in 2009.

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