Can Republicans weather this storm?

Posted: Sep 26, 2006 12:06 PM

To maintain control of Congress this fall, Republicans will have to overcome the drag of history, an unpopular war, a president whose poll numbers have been in the tank most of the year and the smell of corruption emanating from a few bad apples in the GOP barrel. It’s a tall order, but they could conceivably pull it off unless there’s a 1994-like anti-Republican tsunami building over the horizon.

Republican leaders would be happy to avoid the sort of disaster that hit the Democrats in 1994, but knowing it could happen may be their best weapon against it. Back then, the Democrats never believed such a wave was possible and did little to prepare for what was coming. They were like the people in Indonesia who stayed on the beach in spite of the signs of impending disaster when the real life tsunami hit that country and they paid a similar price.

Republicans have at least learned from 1994 that when the storm signs are out, it’s best to move back from the beach and they have been doing just that. They’ve dug in, stockpiled resources and are out there fighting for their political lives knowing that the wave could still wash them away but that if the storm is downgraded between now and election day, they can minimize the damage.

And there are signs that the storm is abating to some degree. The president’s approval rating is inching back up and Republicans remain competitive, even if slightly behind, in districts that their opponents should already have sown up. Analysts who were predicting a Democratic takeover of the House two months ago are now suggesting that Republicans might dodge the bullet and the Democratic inability to nominate a scandal-free candidate in New Jersey may save the senate.

In the absence of a tsunami-like wave, control of Congress will depend on the outcome in perhaps 20 congressional districts and half a dozen states. The House majority is in particular, as Rep. Mike Pence described it last week, a “tenacious majority” that will fight to the end. That tenacity could make the difference on Election Day.

One of the real problems the Republicans face, however, is financial. The common wisdom is that the GOP through its various committees always enters the fray with more money than the Democrats, but those who ascribe to the view that Republicans enjoy a real advantage these days don’t know what’s been going on out there.

The advent of John McCain’s election “reforms” has created a new world in which the super-rich and organized labor are playing a bigger role than ever. Even as they whine that George Soros and others aren’t giving them enough money this year, the left has access to far more hard and soft money than the GOP.

In fact, liberal/left- and union-organized PACs and 527 committees have been running millions of dollars in television ads in at least 90 congressional districts since the spring to soften up potentially vulnerable incumbent Republicans by driving up their negative poll numbers.

Anyone who doubts the advantage these folks enjoy need only look at the list of the largest political action committees. Cleta Mitchell, a Washington attorney who follows these matters closely, has been warning for months that McCain’s rules favor the left and reports regularly to anyone that will listen on the size of their war chest. The first dozen are all pro-Democratic with exception of the Realtors who historically give half their money to candidates of each party.’s PAC has raised and is spending more than 14 million dollars in hard money and one has to drop down to the 13th largest PAC to find the first right of center PAC, that of the National Rifle Association.

As of June 30th, left wing and union 527 committees had raised more than $105 million as opposed to about $20 million raised by their pro-GOP counterparts. Where I come from, a 5:1 advantage is meaningful.

The whining of folks like Harold Ickes who say the left isn’t putting up much money this year should be taken for what it is: the poor mouthing that inevitably accompanies an appeal for even more. Republicans on the ground know that he and his soul mates have already raised and spent enough to salt the clouds in the hope of generating the storm and tsunami they so fervently are hoping is developing.

The GOP hope is that they spent much of their millions early and will squander the rest. Most of them feel it’s bad enough that they have to deal with the problems that put them in a hole in the first place without the added burden of overcoming the McCain handicap.