WASHINGTON -- If Republicans picked a theme song to describe the gloomy political climate they face this year, it would be "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."
With Americans at war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the economy tilting toward recession, it is hard to imagine the election-year environment can get any bleaker for the GOP, though that seemed to be the case this week.
The consumer-confidence index plunged deeper, as the jobs picture grew darker, and gas prices continued to rise, up to $4 a gallon in places. The housing market, despite a rise in existing-home sales last month, remains in a slump; oil prices were more than $100 a barrel; food prices climbed higher; and economists say the country faces a serious bout of inflation following the Fed's interest-rate cuts and the declining dollar.
Fearing the worst, nearly 30 House Republicans have announced their retirement so far, threatening their party with further losses. The Democrats' House and Senate campaign committees are outraising the GOP, and generic election polls find that Americans will vote Democratic this year by wide margins.
Still, there may be a silver lining in those dark clouds up ahead. No one doubts the Republicans are running against strong head winds, but it begs the question: If things are this bad, why aren't Democrats trouncing John McCain in the presidential-preference polls?
Despite a pessimistic and unhappy electorate, the Arizona senator -- the war's biggest supporter who says he still has a lot to learn about economics -- has edged ahead of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the national head-to-head polls.
The reason: voter alienation over the bitter, divisive fight between their campaigns that shows no sign of ending anytime soon, perhaps not until the August convention in Denver, Colo., where a small cabal of Democratic superdelegates will choose the nominee.
Worse, both candidates have seen their credibility tarnished on several fronts:
-- Obama's admission that he had attended Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church for 20 years but had never heard him spew the anti-white hatred that has recently come to light in some of his sermons -- and his inexplicable eagerness to remain faithful to the incendiary minister for so many years.
-- Clinton's wildly exaggerated foreign-policy-experience claims that she helped bring peace to Northern Ireland and dodged sniper bullets while landing at a Bosnia airport, focusing new attention on her propensity to embellish and exaggerate the truth.
"It's been a bad couple of weeks for the Democrats, with Obama and Hillary continuing to snipe at each other, beginning the process of a thousand cuts," independent pollster John Zogby told me.