Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- No one envies John Cornyn's job as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in a daunting election cycle when the GOP will likely lose more Senate seats in 2010.

Soon after the two-term Texas senator took over the No. 4 Republican leadership post, five GOP-held Senate seats became open contests as a result of four retirements in New Hampshire, Missouri, Ohio and Florida and a devastating party switch in Pennsylvania -- states that are trending Democratic and where his party's prospects of holding them look bleak.

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"History has dealt Cornyn a bad hand," veteran elections forecaster Stuart Rothenberg told me last week. "The Republican brand is damaged, they have a number of vulnerable seats. If Cornyn can break even in this cycle, I'm sure, privately, he'd be thrilled."

But Cornyn is a never-say-die kind of guy who knows it's still very early in the two-year midterm cycle and the political landscape could significantly change before next year. Rothenberg predicts Democrats "are positioned to pick up two to three Senate seats," but the senator thinks otherwise.

"I wouldn't agree with that. It's a mixed bag. Will there be losses? It's too early to say. If we're lucky to have the candidate recruitment fall into place, those numbers will change dramatically," he told me in an interview.

Sure, it's a tough cycle with some overwhelming challenges for a party that is on the ropes right now. But Cornyn expects, with some justification, that the national political climate may look very different in the fall of 2010 than it does right now.

"Given the overreaching of the administration on spending, borrowing, nationalizing big sectors of our economy, I think the elections will be a referendum on the administration's policies," he said.

"Unemployment will remain very high next year. There is a very real danger we will see inflation take off. There will still be massive government debt, and unfunded liabilities are looming. I think the economy will remain weak at a minimum," he said.

Cornyn isn't talking through his hat. With unemployment rising to 9.4 percent last month and forecasts of further job losses to come, the U.S. economy could be in for a long and anemic recovery, with slow economic growth, weak job creation and a volatile stock market.

Making matters worse, is an unprecedented $2 trillion deficit this fiscal year alone and the prospects of trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see as weak growth begets weak tax revenues and deeper debt.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.