Thursday, August 17, 2006


Tsunami Rising?

The problem facing Republicans right now, just about ten weeks from Election Day is that it could be too late to stop an electoral tsunami from overtaking them:

Despite a divisive Democratic primary in Connecticut and renewed attention to homeland security in the wake of a foiled terrorist plot, the political wave that Democrats hope will wash out Republican majorities in Congress appears to be getter larger.

With 83 days before the election, independent analysts and political observers say that the universe of competitive congressional races is broadening. Most of these newly identified endangered incumbents are Republicans, increasing the chances of a Democratic takeover of one or both chambers of Congress.

Republicans were expected to benefit politically from the thwarted plot to blow up airplanes bound for the U.S. and Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) loss to Ned Lamont, an anti-war candidate, in the Democratic primary. But lawmakers and political strategists noted that those events have not shifted perceptions about President Bush or the GOP-controlled Congress.

“I don’t think this is much of a reprieve for the Republicans,” said a widely respected Republican strategist. “This foiled airliner attack won’t have a lasting impact on the electoral process because it didn’t happen. I don’t think it changes much of the dynamic.”
Add to that, this interesting synthesis of polls going back several months; they indicate that the anti-Bush, anti-GOP sensibility seems to have been locked in for some time now.

Finally, David Broder puts some flesh to the cold numbers and assesses
the situation in one key bellwhether state. None of the Ohio Republicans to whom he speaks are able to put a positive spin on the situation -- which seems to ripple across the Midwest:

I had dinner one night with a group of Ohio Republicans, all with many years of experience in state politics and none directly engaged in this year's gubernatorial race. One of them said, "I'm afraid this could be another 1982," a year when recession pushed unemployment to 15 percent and cost the Republicans the governorship. Another said, "I'd settle right now for another 1982. I'm afraid it will be another 1974," the year of the Watergate election, when Democrats swept everything in sight.

Ohio may be particularly vulnerable because the economy in parts of the state where the auto industry remains vital has been hurt by layoffs, and because a series of scandals has left retiring Gov. Bob Taft with approval ratings in the teens. But similar concerns are voiced across the Midwest.

A leading Minnesota Republican told me that polls there show "the bottom has dropped out" of Rep. Mark Kennedy's challenge to Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic candidate for an open Democratic Senate seat. Kennedy has company among the corps of Republican congressmen who thought this would be a good year to move up. In Wisconsin, Rep. Mark Green is lagging slightly behind Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. In Oklahoma, Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. is far worse off in his challenge to Democratic Gov. Brad Henry. And in Iowa, Rep. Jim Nussle, the strong early favorite to capture the open governorship from the Democrats, now finds himself in a real battle with Democrat Chet Culver.

For all of them, service in this Congress has turned out to be a handicap rather than a benefit to their chances of advancement. The reason was explained in blunt terms by the Republican governor of one of the states where a congressman of his party is struggling for statewide office. "What has this Congress done that anyone should applaud?" he asked scornfully. "Nothing on immigration, nothing on health care, nothing on energy -- and nothing on the war. They deserve a good kick in the pants, and that's what they're going to get."
The trouble for the party is that, the situation maay be irretrievable. Yes, it still remains true that "XXX weeks is a lifetime in politics." However, it also becomes the case that a poor campaign environment -- whether individual one or the rare "broad, seasonal" mood across a country -- takes on an aerodynamic quality: Like an airliner in distress, at a certain point, not even the most talented pilot can pull the plane out of a death-spiral. The forces of gravity kick in and make it impossible to effect a soft-landing.

That may be where the GOP is right now. It is notable how several of these stories -- particularly those discussing the polls -- use phrases similar to "the effect of the bombing plot" may not have fully taken hold yet on public perception.

The thing is -- actually, it may very well have. And. they. don't. care.

The American public may not be as informed -- or skeptical -- on the details of the bomb plot as
Andrew Sullivan , but they may have reached a point where the revelation that "there are terrorists out there" is something that they've factored in -- and is no longer the sole reason to vote for one candidate or another.

Further, it could very well be the case that they are no longer interested in anything coming from Republicans at this point, because they've heard it all before -- and aren't seeing or feeling any positive change coming about in either their personal situation or the country's or the world's circumstances.

Note the words of the people Broder talked to. These are professional, loyal Republican activists and strategists: They feel that the party hasn't done anything to reward a vote. True, Ohio is a special case given the corruption that is spread throughout the state party; but the Abramoff and Duke Cunningham scandals have managee to taint the entire party. Furthermore, the bad taste that the latest Israeli conflict has created has depressed some of the administration's most earnest foreign policy supporters.

This is a recipe for conservative and loyal Republican voters to stay home -- at best -- while Democrats are as enraged, engaged (and, worse, focused) as they have been in some time.

And, of course, in the real world of Washington, D.C., rats don't desert a sinking ship -- they pay for
safe passage on the nearest pirate vessel.

As for everyone else, well, let's hope there is a good number of life rafts available.

UPDATE: Social conservatives also checking their flotation devices? After tipping his cap to George Will's John-Kerry-was-right epiphany (see here), my erstwhile colleague Rod Dreher asks, "Are Roberts and Alito worth this mess?"

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