Donald Lambro

First, not only will the economy pick up a head of steam this year, but the stock market could be entering a long bull market -- helped later this year by the expected extension of the tax cuts on dividends and capital gains -- that will push worker and retiree 401(k) plans into a higher orbit.

Second, with increasing reports of stronger Iraqi security forces taking over more responsibility -- and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sending signals that that's exactly what he wants -- some U.S. troop withdrawals are in the cards this year.

That will likely improve Bush's polls and maybe boost support for the GOP Congress, changing the political equation dramatically.

Third, the old rule of politics is, you can't beat something with nothing. And nothing is what the Democrats have right now in terms of an agenda.

Unless you think higher taxes is a great issue to run on. Fourth, Republicans have begun to kick their political offensive up a notch. A preview of their campaign strategy was on view last weekend in Memphis at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, where Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman tore into the Democrats with a vengeance.

Following White House political guru Karl Rove's election game plan to play to the GOP's strong suit on national security, Mehlman went on the attack:

"Do you want the speaker of the House ... to be [Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi] who said, less than a year after 9/11, 'I don't really consider ourselves at war'?"

"Was [Senate Democratic leader] Harry Reid really proud when he announced last year, 'We killed the [anti-terrorist] Patriot Act'?"

If the Democrats take control of Congress in November, they will raise taxes and put liberal judges on the Supreme Court who will "strike 'Under God' from the Pledge of Allegiance" and "deny parents the right to know if their minor daughter is having an abortion," he said.

This is the kind of red-meat attacks we can expect from Republicans this year, tailored to energize and reunite the GOP's divided base, and Bush will be leading the charge. Don't underestimate them. They defied the historical odds and won in 2002 and again in 2004, and their prospects are looking better in 2006.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.