Prediction: Probably The House, Not The Senate
Most recent polls find that the three top issues to voters as we head into the home stretch of the midterm election are Iraq, the economy, and the war on terror. There are no surprises here, as these have been the three biggies for a while now. Amongst the three, the only one that offers the GOP a clear advantage in the time remaining before November is the war on terror, because 1) the White House can and continues to manipulate events and the media in pushing its storyline; and 2) Democrats have still not figured out how to deal with this.
Iraq will not get better between now and the election, with daily evidence coming in of more killings, more gloomy assessments of how we have screwed up there, and more lame attempts by Bush to scare the cultists into believing that if we don’t stop Muqtada al-Sadr or the Sunnis in Iraq they will come to Atlanta to blow up the nearest supermarket. Sure, the cultists are stupid enough to keep buying this drivel, as are a sizeable number of independents, but Iraq must play out in each district as a choice between a GOP enabler and rubber-stamper of Bush/Cheney’s failure, or a Democrat who will work for a better, more effective solution.
The only way the economy will help Bush between now and the midterms is if gas prices can tumble fast enough for voters to temporarily forget how we got to $77/barrel oil: global tensions from Bush’s foreign policy, oil speculators, and oil companies that have taken great profits not tied to the actual cost of production. Oil companies now freely admit that there is no supply problem after all. We will see declining prices just in time for the election, but voters’ perceptions are what matters here and there has been a disconnect between the Bush Administration happy talk, Wall Street’s pabulum, and the economic indicators on the one hand, and the kitchen table for several years now. Democrats must remind voters that temporarily declining gas prices just in time for the election don’t eliminate the problems that six years of GOP rubber-stamping have given us. And if Democrats remind voters about what Bush and the GOP will try again next year on Social Security privatization and hammer the “are you better off now than you were six years ago” argument, they win this one as well.
As for the war on terror, that will be the Johnny-One-Note message we will hear from the White House the rest of the way. It will be sold to voters in each district as a “stay the course” with Bush message, through the usual fear and smear tactics with a touch of “who’s your daddy” messaging from GOP incumbents. These GOP incumbents are going negative on their Democratic challengers while touting their ability to bring home the bacon to the district. They will tie themselves to Bush when it suits them as they fight the bad terrorists under the bed that the Democrats want to allegedly appease. Again, the Democrats need to engage and fight toe-to-toe with the rubber-stamping GOP incumbents on the issue of national security and getting smart and effective in going after not only Al Qaeda but all their imitators that have spawned on Bush’s watch due to his mistakes. And it might help if Democrats point out now that even Republicans feel they were lied to by the White House when Iraq was sold to them as an extension of the war against those who attacked us on 9/11.
What are our chances? We will not take back the Senate, as the Chafee win yesterday in Rhode Island makes that more difficult if not impossible. I see no sign that Hillary will use her money and fundraising ability to help Democratic Senate challengers where it will do the most good, and we face the prospect that Joe Lieberman will stick it to the Democrats in the new Congress when he wins reelection untethered to the caucus. That is the risk you take when you go after other Democrats before you first gain the majority. As for the House, I think the Democrats will eke out enough seats to numerically gain control now that the DNC and the committees are good buds again, but not by as much as necessary because 1) the GOP except for demonizing Nancy Pelosi will make each race local and negative rather than a national referendum; and 2) the Democrats won’t consistently hammer the necessary messaging and lines of attack against the GOP rubber-stampers.
I hope I am wrong on both counts.