To maintain control of Congress this fall, Republicans will have to overcome the drag of history, an unpopular war, a president whose poll numbers have been in the tank most of the year and the smell of corruption emanating from a few bad apples in the GOP barrel. It’s a tall order, but they could conceivably pull it off unless there’s a 1994-like anti-Republican tsunami building over the horizon.
Republican leaders would be happy to avoid the sort of disaster that hit the Democrats in 1994, but knowing it could happen may be their best weapon against it. Back then, the Democrats never believed such a wave was possible and did little to prepare for what was coming. They were like the people in Indonesia who stayed on the beach in spite of the signs of impending disaster when the real life tsunami hit that country and they paid a similar price.
Republicans have at least learned from 1994 that when the storm signs are out, it’s best to move back from the beach and they have been doing just that. They’ve dug in, stockpiled resources and are out there fighting for their political lives knowing that the wave could still wash them away but that if the storm is downgraded between now and election day, they can minimize the damage.
And there are signs that the storm is abating to some degree. The president’s approval rating is inching back up and Republicans remain competitive, even if slightly behind, in districts that their opponents should already have sown up. Analysts who were predicting a Democratic takeover of the House two months ago are now suggesting that Republicans might dodge the bullet and the Democratic inability to nominate a scandal-free candidate in New Jersey may save the senate.
In the absence of a tsunami-like wave, control of Congress will depend on the outcome in perhaps 20 congressional districts and half a dozen states. The House majority is in particular, as Rep. Mike Pence described it last week, a “tenacious majority” that will fight to the end. That tenacity could make the difference on Election Day.
One of the real problems the Republicans face, however, is financial. The common wisdom is that the GOP through its various committees always enters the fray with more money than the Democrats, but those who ascribe to the view that Republicans enjoy a real advantage these days don’t know what’s been going on out there.
The advent of John McCain’s election “reforms” has created a new world in which the super-rich and organized labor are playing a bigger role than ever. Even as they whine that George Soros and others aren’t giving them enough money this year, the left has access to far more hard and soft money than the GOP.
David A. Keene is the chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington, D.C.-based governmental-affairs firm.
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