While the Republican Party leadership in the House seems doomed to move into a well deserved minority, the GOP shows increasing signs of being able to hang on to the Senate, although perhaps by the thinnest of margins.
Running up a down escalator of sinking Republican fortunes, skillful GOP consultants and strategists have managed to hold the races in Missouri and Virginia to single-digit leads either way and to catch up to large Democratic leads in Montana and Rhode Island.
Most of these four seats are still likely to go Democrat, but they need to win all four to get control and that appears, at this moment, to be a daunting task.
Generally, it is an iron law of politics that when an incumbent is under 50 percent, he is through, but with Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) at 49 percent in the latest Gallup poll and Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) hovering between 48 and 49, the chances that they could pick up the remaining point or two remain pretty good.
Why the reversal in Republican fortunes? Luck has a lot to do with it. Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) outburst might well have cost the Democrats the Senate; and the timing, perhaps not so coincidental, of the Saddam Hussein death verdict also bolsters Republican fortunes.
But the real reason is more likely that GOP base voters, alienated by their party’s inept leadership of both Houses of Congress, their scandals, and their inability to pass tax reform, Social Security reform or overall immigration reform took one look at the Democrats and decided to come home. In effect, they fast-forwarded to Election Day and were appalled at the prospect of a Democratic win. Recoiling from its implications, they began to return to the party fold in the nick of time.
Of course, winning one house will suit the Democratic purposes quite nicely — especially if it is the House of Representatives that they win. House rules will let the Democrats pass one-house bills until their hearts are content, using their majority to pass a wish list of campaign promises without any accountability, knowing for sure that their offerings won’t make it past the Senate or the White House.
Control of the lower house will also give them the committee chairmanships and the subpoena power that goes with it that will let them wage a two-year campaign for the presidency.
In this sense, Election Day 2006 is really a down payment for the Democratic White House race in 2008. Winning one house will go a long way toward winning the entire game two years hence.
Morris, a former political adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of “Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race.”