Donald Lambro

"There are two distinct universes in polling, people who are registered and people who vote. So if you are not polling people who are likely to vote, who have a history of voting, you are going to misread the electorate," Anderson told me.

However, he and other Republicans still think their party will suffer some congressional erosion in November. Most experts do, though they note the election is more than eight months away and that's the interstellar equivalent of a million light-years in political terms, when anything can and usually does change.

Nevertheless, Anderson said, "If the election were held today, it looks like Democrats will make marginal gains; but their hope of taking the House or Senate is a pretty long shot."

Still, some independent election trackers think the pessimistic mood of the country favors the Democrats this year -- and they point to increasing voter disapproval of Congress, the lobbying scandal, the Iraq war, a sour taste among voters about the economy and now the flap over letting an Arab-owned company manage shipping-terminal operations at six major U.S. ports.

"Democrats have the potential for major gains (even taking the House), but their current prospects are somewhat lower," election analyst Stu Rothenberg told his newsletter clients last month. He's predicting that Democrats will pick up from four to eight seats in the House. They need to win 15 to take control.

Midterm elections in a president's second term usually do not favor the party in power, and that may prove to be the case this year, too.

Even so, President Bush and his party have some things going for them that could affect the congressional election outcome in their favor:

First, terrorism will remain a huge issue, and polls show voters trust the Republicans more than liberal Democrats to protect their national security. Second, only two dozen or three dozen House races are truly competitive, and thus far the Democrats' candidate recruitment drive has been a significant disappointment. Third, forget about generic questions, 60 percent of the voters continue to believe their member of Congress should be re-elected.

But Moore's analysis suggests that the Democrats face an even biggest obstacle right now: Republicans are likely leading among people who actually vote.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.