The public holds Congress in low esteem, but this is not apparently harming the party in control as much as it Republicans. An ABC News Washington Post poll found that 54 percent of respondents preferred to see Democrats maintain control of Congress in 2008. The current balance is 51-49 in the Senate and 233-198 (four vacant) in the House.
Among the Senate seats Republicans may have trouble holding are the open seats in Virginia, New Mexico and Colorado. Also considered vulnerable because their states are trending more liberal are incumbents John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, and Susan Collins of Maine. In order to obtain the magic number of 60 -- a filibuster-proof majority -- the Democrats will have to win nine contests. That's a tall order, but far from out of the question.
Some of the talk about excitement on the Democratic side -- particularly the focus on huge disparities in voter turnout -- is simply an artifact of this year's close contest between Clinton and Obama. Voters in many primaries who hadn't shown up in past years did so in 2008 because their votes really mattered. On the other hand, the party identification and fundraising numbers are sobering.
It would be nearly impossible for the minority party in Congress to run on its own platform (like the Contract with America) in a presidential year. Republicans therefore find themselves in the peculiar position of having to hope for salvation from a "maverick" who has never been much of a party man. But in this strange year, anything is possible.
Correction: In a recent column I misidentified Barack Obama's church. It is Trinity United Church of Christ.