Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- During the past summer, a female acquaintance of mine in her 70s who had been a faithful Republican during her long life was solicited by a GOP cold caller as a previous contributor to the party. Not this time. She informed the fundraiser that President Bush's position on immigration was the last straw. She would not give the Republicans another dime -- not now, maybe never. So, she told him, stop calling me!

That rebuff, commonplace in today's Republican fundraising, puts a human face on the Federal Election Commission's cold statistics. They show a commanding Democratic lead over the Republicans in raising money for the 2008 elections. Such an unusual disparity is at once a symptom and a contributing cause of the melancholy suffusing the Grand Old Party as Congress reconvenes after the August break.

As measured by offices held, Republicans have been in much worse shape during my half-century of reporting in Washington. Their party was a mere remnant after the Democratic landslides of 1958, 1964 and 1974. But never before have I seen morale within the party so low. While Republican support for an unpopular war has remained remarkably strong, almost all non-war news during the dreary August recess has been bad for the GOP. The hope is that the eventual elevation of a presidential candidate will revive the party's spirits.

The week before Labor Day, when nothing of importance was supposed to happen, brought bad news for the party just as it appeared nothing worse was possible:

-- The apparent disgrace of Sen. Larry Craig, a former member of the party leadership, is all the worse because several Republican senators and Senate staffers were not a bit surprised. That raises two questions. If so many people knew Craig was an accident waiting to happen, why was he not eased out of office? How many other examples of scandalous behavior are known but hidden?

-- The decision by Sen. John Warner announced Friday not to seek a sixth term from Virginia at age 80 was no surprise but still a disappointment. Former Gov. Mark Warner, no relation and a Democrat, is an overwhelming favorite to win in Virginia next year. Republicans privately estimate that this will be one of four Senate seats they will lose in 2008, giving Democratic Leader Harry Reid a real working majority.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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