Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The conventional wisdom among most of the political pundits and prophets here is that the Republican brand isn't selling so hot because of President Bush's decline in the polls. But the conventional wisdom often turns out to be wrong in politics, and 2006 may well be the year when that happens.

The White House and the Republicans are going through some tough times politically, no question about that. But so are the Democrats, even in the Northeast blue states where you would expect them to be doing well.

Let's take the Democratic-leaning red state of Pennsylvania as Exhibit A. Everyone knows Republican Sen. Rick Santorum is running behind his Democratic rival, state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., who is 10 points ahead of the GOP lawmaker in most polls.

But did you know that Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who will be up for re-election next year, is also in trouble?

In a survey that produced what independent pollster John Zogby called "stunning numbers," Rendell, he said, "is in a pitched battle, endangered by candidacies from either Bill Scranton, a former lieutenant governor and scion of a powerful political family, or Lynn Swann, the great Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver turned conservative novice political candidate."

Rendell, the tough-talking Keystone state governor who apparently is not well liked by Pennsylvanians, is in a statistical dead heat with Scranton, who is running just three points behind -- 44 percent to 41 percent. Swann is running four points behind, 47 percent to 43 percent.

These are astonishing numbers at this early stage in the election cycle, suggesting that a prominent Democratic governor from a major electoral state is in danger of being knocked off by the Republicans. Apparently, the GOP brand is selling better in some states than the pundits would want us to believe and the Democratic brand is losing market share.

The depth of Rendell's troubles can be seen in other polling numbers. His favorable ratings are nearly as high as his unfavorables -- 39 percent to 38 percent -- according to a Franklin & Marshall College Keystone Poll of 1,145 Pennsylvanians, including 522 registered voters, conducted Nov. 2 through 7.

One reason: 52 percent say the state is on the wrong track, versus 39 percent of those who say we are headed in the right direction.

Consider Exhibit B in the reddest of red states, New Jersey, where Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine just won the governorship. Some say that the GOP is finished there for the time being. Well, not exactly, Polls show that the Republicans' likely nominee to replace Corzine in the Senate next November is leading several House Democrats who intend to run for the open seat.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.