Donald Lambro

"These candidates are smart and realize that 2006 was a wave election, and it is highly unlikely Democrats will get back-to-back cycles like that," he said. Whatever troubles the Republicans have had this year and last, they can no longer be blamed for what Congress has or, more to the point, has not done. The Democrats are in charge now and, apparently, the voters do not like the job they've been doing.

The Democratic Congress' job-approval score has sunk to 23 percent, down 8 points since April. Other polls give them even lower marks. A Rasmussen survey found that "just 19 percent of American voters believe Congress is doing a good or excellent job."

Notably, among Democratic voters, only 24 percent say Congress is doing a good job -- down from 35 percent who said that a month ago.

The latest election strategy being implemented by the Republicans and the White House is aimed at re-energizing the party's base, which has been eroded by deepening divisions over the war, immigration and runaway spending.

In the past two weeks, however, Republicans have been mounting an effective counteroffensive against the Democrats that has had GOP allies cheering. House Democrats have been forced to retreat in the face of a furious assault by Republican leaders on wasteful, pork-barrel spending, an issue that angered the GOP's conservative base in 2006. President Bush, abandoning his distaste for vetoing spending bills, now plans to veto a string of them in the coming weeks if Democrats insist on higher-spending levels that exceed his budget proposals.

None of this suggests that Republicans do not face huge obstacles in the coming months in their attempts to win back alienated segments of the electorate. But Rothenberg finds that "for the first time in months, there may be a crack or two starting to show in the Democrats' position" in the coming elections. Those cracks appear to be widening in more than a dozen narrowly won districts where Democrats are vulnerable to a GOP upset.

"In order to win back the majority, we don't have to conquer new territory. We just need to reclaim old territory," Spain said.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.