Republicans are encountering some speed bumps on what they hope is the road to victory in the November elections. Their candidates for Republican open Senate seats in Ohio and Missouri are running no better than even in recent polls. The independent candidacy of Gov. Charlie Crist is threatening Marco Rubio's bid to hold the Republican Senate seat in Florida.
In Pennsylvania, Republican Pat Toomey is not a gimme to win Arlen Specter's Senate seat, even though Democrat Joe Sestak's charge that the White House offered him a job to get out of the race is causing him problems. In Kentucky, tea-party-backed Republican Rand Paul's questioning of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- an unforced error if there ever was one -- makes a race of it in a state Barack Obama lost 57 percent to 41 percent.
As for Obama's old Illinois Senate seat, the failure of Alexi Giannoulias' family-owned, mob-lending bank looked like a fatal stroke. But now it turns out that Republican Mark Kirk misstated his military record. That could hurt him, though similar misstatements by Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal have not much dented his lead over World Wrestling Entertainment owner Linda McMahon, whose negatives are high.
In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been trailing all year. But his ads attacking his Republican rivals have lowered their numbers, and the primary next Tuesday may be won by a state legislator who has taken some eccentric stands on issues.
So there are glimmers of hope for Democrats -- that they won't lose as many Senate seats as has seemed likely, that Republicans will fail to capture the 39 seats they need for a House majority. After all, they failed to win special elections in New York 20, New York 23 and Pennsylvania 12.
The Democrats' tactics are predictable. Running against George W. Bush (who?) is not likely to get them very far, though Barack Obama can't resist attacking him wherever her goes. But emphasizing local issues (as in Pennsylvania 12), banking on intraparty Republican splits (as in New York 23) and disqualifying Republicans as wackos or on personal grounds can salvage some seats that otherwise seem lost.
Still, the fact that Democrats are reduced to such tactics underlines their problem: The policies of the Obama administration and congressional Democratic leaders are deeply unpopular. And those policies have swept into politics hundreds of thousands of previously apolitical citizens symbolized by but not limited to the tea party movement.