Democrats may have swelled chests this morning after reading the latest poll results from The Washington Post. I wished I had saved the version that appeared online last night at about 5:30. If I recall correctly, this morning’s story was re-edited to bring higher into the story two warning to Democrats:

One is a growing disaffection with incumbents generally. When asked whether they were inclined to reelect their current representative to Congress or look around for someone new, 55 percent said they were open to someone else, the highest since just before Republicans captured control of Congress in 1994. That suggests that some Democratic incumbents could feel the voters’ wrath, although as the party in power Republicans have more at risk.

The second warning for Democrats is that their improved prospects for November appear driven primarily by dissatisfaction with Republicans rather than by positive impressions of their own party. Congressional Democrats are rating only slightly more favorably than congressional Republicans, and 52 percent of those surveyed said the Democrats have not offered a sharp contrast to Bush and the Republicans.

If I’m correct, the edits were probably an attempt to be more “balanced.” Whatever the reason, I’m glad the editors made the changes. It’s now less likely that readers might not have gotten to the these two paragraphs that were much farther down in the online story.

Reading the data, there is more cause for caution. The number of voters who say they prefer a Democratic candidate hasn’t changed since last November. All this bad news and declining support for Bush hasn’t made Democrats any more appealing. They were at the same 52% last November. And they have made no progress (still at 44% since November) in convincing the majority of Americans that they have a clear agenda. (Granted, those who say their vote for Congress will be to show opposition to Bush is much higher today than it was in 1998 against President Clinton just before the November elections that swept the GOP into power in Congress.)

As I’ve said before, in the long run being the other guy doesn’t get you very far. If the Dems win control, Republicans then become the other guys.

But the Dems still seemed paralyzed, afraid to make a mistake. They’re afraid to outline an agenda. Yet, what we’ve learned over the past five years is that having an agenda and fighting for it gives you a lot of traction with voters. It wasn’t until the Iraq War clearly turned south and other problems piled on that voters became disenchanted with Bush and his cronies. What Dems should have learned from this is that they need to stake out some territory, outline some policies and promote the hell out of them. They’ll win a lot of votes just for having positions. Once they win and try to implement them, the other thing I hope they learned is that if those policies don’t pan out, they quickly change course, modify them and try to make them better.

Virginia Democrats are hoping for the same voter discontent to help them regain the GA, at least by 2009. And some GOPers are worried, too.

Republicans in Virginia’s General Assembly are growing fearful that voters could become frustrated with their party’s recent failures to complete state budgets on time and take out their anger at the polls.

Many worry that Democrats are poised to use the Virginia GOP’s years-long intraparty feud over taxes and spending as a potent political tool to argue that Republicans are too divided to govern.

But Virginia Democrats so far have offered little as alternatives. The tax hike of ’04 and the proposal this year would not have happened without Republican support.

“Republicans are in control, and this battle in leadership is within the Republican Party,” Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta) said. “The Democrats, even though they may see some political opportunity in it, are basically bystanders, onlookers. It’s something we need to sort out as Republicans. Ultimately, if we don’t sort it out in a timely manner, we won’t remain the majority party.”

Bystanders, indeed. Even the Governor has seemed to become a bystander lately. He and fellow Dems seem to be following that old (and worn out) advice:

“When you don’t have the power, you can’t really be blamed for anything,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, an associate professor of political science at Mary Washington University. “It’s the first rule of politics: When the other party is shooting itself in the foot, get out of the way.”

But when you “get out of the way,” the best place to go is into the back office to plot an alternative you can offer voters in the next election. Strong communities is one theme. Bi-artisan redistricting is another. “Level playing field” and a “legacy to our grandchildren” is another. But now is the time to test these themes and create policies behind them, not two months before the election.

In the national picture, we hear that we’ll get some themes, but not before late summer. Let’s hope it’s not to late. But I can assure you that the national Dems have been hammering out those themes for months. Are the Virginia Dems doing the same?