WASHINGTON -- The first year of the 2008 campaign -- think about that -- has clearly established that the Republican Party's prospects are cloudy. In the first two major contests, Mike Huckabee has finished first and third, John McCain fourth and first, Romney second twice. Rudy Giuliani has been treading water, waiting for Florida, which on Jan. 29 will allocate more convention delegates (114) than Iowa, Wyoming and New Hampshire have combined (92). So, clinging to cliches as to a lifeline, Republicans congratulate themselves on how evenly the party's strengths, such as they are, are spread among their candidates.
But although only one-third of 1 percent of the national electorate -- those who have participated in the Iowa, Wyoming and New Hampshire nominating events -- have spoken, the Democrats have even more reason than they did three weeks ago to look forward to a rollicking November. Realistic Republicans are looking for shelter.
Nov. 4 could be their most disagreeable day since Nov. 3, 1964. Actually, this November could be even worse because in 1964 Barry Goldwater's loss of 44 states served a purpose, the ideological reorientation and revitalization of the party. Which Republican candidate this year could produce a similarly constructive loss?
Today, all the usual indicators are dismal for Republicans. If that sweeping assertion seems counterintuitive, produce a counterexample. The adverse indicators include: shifts in voters' identifications with the two parties (Democrats now 50 percent, Republicans 36 percent); the tendency of independents (they favored Democratic candidates by 18 points in 2006); the fact that Democrats hold a majority of congressional seats in states with 303 electoral votes; the Democrats' strength and the Republicans' relative weakness in fundraising; the percentage of Americans who think the country is on the "wrong track"; the Republicans' enthusiasm deficit relative to Democrats' embrace of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, one of whom will be nominated.
Iowa and New Hampshire were two of the three states (New Mexico was the third) which changed partisan alignment between 2000 and 2004 -- Iowa turning red, New Hampshire blue. This month, Democratic participation was twice the Republican participation in Iowa and almost 22 percent higher in New Hampshire. George W. Bush won Iowa by just 0.67 percent of the vote. Whomever the Republicans nominate should assume that he must replace Iowa's seven electoral votes if he is to reach Bush's 2004 total of 286.