WASHINGTON -- A little more than six months from now, voters will decide which party will control the House and Senate for the next two years.
And with their votes, they will be declaring their approval or disapproval of President Trump's first two years in office.
With most of Trump's job approval polls running in the high 30s to low 40s, some surveys show that voters who dislike his performance as president may be voting some pro-Trump lawmakers out of office on Nov. 6.
Others, especially in his political base, will be voting for congressional candidates who wholeheartedly support the president's political agenda.
Political prognosticators have been sifting through the polling data for clues to which way voters are leaning, but without a clear, definitive answer.
"This 2018 election is a relative rarity," writes Charles E. Cook Jr., chief political guru of the widely read Cook Political Report that is the bible of campaign junkies.
"Sure, congressional elections come every two years, but it is really unusual for the majorities in the House and Senate to actually be teetering on the edge," he writes this week. "Usually one party goes into an election with a strong, if not prohibitive, advantage, but with a change in power fairly unlikely. Control of the House has flipped three times in the past 25 years, a period encompassing a half-dozen midterm and presidential elections each, with all three party changes occurring in midterm years."
After running the latest race-by-race House numbers through his crystal ball, Cook forecasts that the "best-case scenario for Republicans would probably be losing 10 to 20 seats, holding onto their majority by their fingernails."
In the Senate, he sees the Democrats' best-case scenario "might be a net gain of three seats, giving them a scant 52-48 seat majority." The best-case for the GOP is a gain of three or four seats, giving them a 54- or 55-seat majority.
A glance at the House and Senate races in the "toss-up" categories compiled by the Real Clear Politics polling website shows how many races are up for grabs.
Right now, Senate Republicans cling precariously to a 51-seat majority that could be dismantled by the loss of just two seats from the eight in the GOP toss-up column.
The House toss-up seats are also fertile ground for the Democrats, because 25 of them are held by Republicans.
"Obviously, six months is a long time, and much can and will happen, but the trajectory seems to be in a single direction and consistent with the party holding the White House losing seats in 35 out of 38 (92 percent) midterm elections since the end of the Civil War," Cook says.
But the Democrats haven't shown any ability to boost economic growth, and nowhere was that clearer than during the Obama years, when the economy was frozen in subpar growth, incomes were stagnant, good-paying jobs were hard to come by and taxes were oppressive up and down the income scale.
No matter how bad the economy got, or how much the job market declined, Democratic congressional leaders were as silent as a tomb.
Trump and the Republicans in Congress have begun to breathe new life into the economy, the No. 1 concern in just about every voter poll. And the likelihood is that we are going to see widespread economic benefits across the board in the months to come.
Charlie Cook is a liberal, Democratic analyst who knows how to count votes and forecast elections.
But in a critical analysis of the Democratic Party, titled "Before They Make Gains, Dems Need to Look in the Mirror," Cook didn't mince words.
"It's not clear that Democrats fully understood why they lost the last presidential election and why their congressional gains were so paltry," he wrote last week.
"I met last week with leaders and members of a manufacturing union that was still livid over the Obama administration's 'war on coal' that they believe put many of their members out of work or cut their hours," he said.
"A bit of self-reflection rather than just scapegoating might be in order," he told his party.
Six months is an eternity in politics, and the voters are still making up their minds.
But if the economy is thriving and the stock market is surging as we head into November, Republicans may do a lot better than Cook is forecasting.
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