Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The political terrain looked bleaker for Republicans last week when New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici announced he will retire at the end of next year.

Domenici's decision means there will be at least four open Republican Senate seats up for grabs that will give Democrats more opportunities to expand their thin 51 to 49 majority.

The senator, who has struggled with health problems in recent years, will join GOP Sens. John Warner of Virginia, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Wayne Allard of Colorado on the sidelines. With several other Republican incumbents in jeopardy in Minnesota, Maine and Oregon, Democrats are looking at a possible net gain of anywhere from two to four seats next year.

The not unexpected departure of the 75-year-old Domenici, one of the party's old bulls (serving his sixth term), only added to the gloomy aura surrounding the GOP's formidable problems as it faced a trouble-plagued campaign year that could restore the Democrats to power in the White House and strengthen their hold on Congress.

In addition to the GOP retirements in the Senate, a growing number of Republicans have announced they are leaving the House, including Reps. Jim Ramstad of Minnesota, Ray LaHood and Dennis Hastert of Illinois, Deborah Pryce of Ohio, Chip Pickering of Mississippi and Rick Renzi of Arizona. At this stage of the game, the likelihood is that the Democrats will pick up some seats in the House.

All of this points to the Republican Party's deteriorating political health, and less than three months before the start of the 2008 election cycle, the GOP's brand is in serious decline.

One significant measurement of that decline can be seen in the contest for money.

In the fund-raising race for the presidency, the Democratic front-runners have been easily out-raising the Republicans by tens of millions of dollars this year. No GOP front-runner has raised as much as the two Democratic leaders, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In Congress, the Democratic congressional and senatorial campaign committees have also been out-raising their Republican counterparts by substantial sums. The party's campaign hierarchy seems to be in disarray as well. Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, is a figurehead leader who, understandably, is far more focused on his chief responsibilities as Florida's senator than plotting the GOP's 2008 campaign message.

Over at the White House, with President Bush's campaign maestro, Karl Rove, out of the picture, there is a huge campaign-strategy vacuum in the GOP's high command. "No one is looking at the big picture over there," a party official told me.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.