Strategists in tough races have been skeptical of this message, and they still are. Yes, people tell pollsters they don't want undisclosed special interest money influencing elections. But that's not what worries them when they go to bed at night, and it may not be topmost among their concerns when they head to the voting booth. When polls ask people to name their worries, special-interest money doesn't come up. (That isn't to say that by 2012 this won't be an issue. In two years, if Republicans policies are unpopular Democrats will say it's because the GOP has been paying back the special interests who bought the election for them.)
In the end, it may be the key example used in the post-election recriminations, as Democrats debate whether their problem was bad communication (as various White House aides have suggested) or a bad message.
Though the president has been in a reflective mood recently, discussing the modifications he may make to his presidency after the election, Van Hollen did not indicate how congressional Democrats would change if they lose control of the House on Nov. 2. When asked how things might be different, he said he hoped Republicans might be less obstructionist.
It was a genuine hope, surely, but it wasn't quite a responsive answer. If this election is a referendum on what happened in the last two years, rather than a choice between competing visions for the next two—or even if it's more of a referendum than a choice—then there are signs that message has yet to sink in among some Democrats. Which means that just because the election won't be a surprise like Pearl Harbor doesn't mean it won't be a rout like the Alamo.