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Jewish World Review May 8, 2006 / 10 Iyar 5766

John H. Fund

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Dems may not be able to win the House, but Republicans could lose it | Ken Mehlman is the unflappable efficiency expert who chairs the Republican National Committee. Because he's not known for histrionics, his warning last week to GOP congressional staffers about this November's elections caused many on Capitol Hill to bolt upright.

Mr. Mehlman traveled to Capitol Hill to warn the staffers that they risked a disaster at the polls if they didn't pass meaningful legislation the conservative base cares about. Other GOP strategists go even further. "If the election were held today, I'd say the odds are 90% that we'd lose the House," says GOP consultant Mike Murphy.

Other Republicans aren't as gloomy, but they warn the GOP Congress has to act on a range of issues soon. "If we want to ensure voter turnout among conservatives doesn't drop, we've got to perform," says Rep. Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican who dropped by The Wall Street Journal's offices on Friday. He adds it is imperative that the bloated "emergency" spending bill passed by the Senate this week not become law and that some immigration bill clears Congress.

Some polls show public disapproval of the GOP among conservatives reaching dangerously high levels. A new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll found that only 66% of Republicans now approve of President Bush's performance. A new Associated Press/Public Affairs poll found 45% of self-identified conservatives disapprove of Mr. Bush's job as president, and 65% disapprove of the GOP Congress. The disapproval numbers are probably exaggerated because of an oversampling of Democrats, but even if somewhat lower, the numbers are still toxic. "[What's] happening is a breakdown of the coalition that elected and re-el

ected the president," says pollster John Zogby. He told the Washington Times that in his surveys he found Mr. Bush pulling in less than 45% support among people invested in the stock market, Nascar fans and gun owners. His standing among born-again Christians was just over 50%.

Despite such numbers, analysts caution that a GOP wipeout in November is unlikely. Polls of generic support for the major parties are notoriously unreliable as a predictor.. In 1996, Democrats enjoyed a 14-point advantage over Republicans in congressional races only two months before the election. In the end, they gained only nine seats, and that was before sophisticated gerrymandering dramatically shrank the number of competitive districts and after Republicans won some heavily Democratic districts in 1994. Jonathan Last, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, also reminds us that "Democrats have shown time and again that they can blow a lead like nobody's business."

The other problem Democrats still face is that the public thinks almost as badly about them as they do the Republicans. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds just 33% have a positive view of the Democratic Party, with 39% having a negative view. Republican numbers are worse, but just barely: 35% positive, 43% negative. Just after the 2004 elections, Democrats had a 44% favorable rating while Republicans had a 46% rating, numbers that came close to matching that year's election results. Even Howard Dean, Mr. Mehlman's Democratic counterpart, admits that his party has to "earn the public approval of our right to govern again."

So far Democrats are offering little should they take control of the House. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, told the Washington Post last week, that she planed to launch a series of investigations, starting with the five-year old meetings of the energy task force that was convened by Vice President Dick Cheney and that the Supreme Court has already ruled was within its rights to hold secret meetings. The Washington Post reported that "Pelosi denied Republican allegations that a Democratic House would move quickly to impeach President Bush. But, she said of the planned investigations, 'You never know where it leads to.' "

Should the Democrats take over the House, the party's 2008 presidential nominee may view it as a mixed blessing — a reminder to voters of why they rejected one-party Democratic rule in 1994. Still, it is a measure of the dissatisfaction that Republicans have with the Bush White House and GOP Congress right now that John McCain is, at least for now, the front-runner for his party's nomination.

In 2000, he had alienated many party regulars and conservatives with his positions for curbs on political free speech and global warming and against tax cuts in 2000. But Mr. McCain has since moved to repair bridges with key party constituencies and has also softened his views on some issues. At the same time other issues he has championed — such as his crusade against pork-barrel spending — have come to the fore.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll offered respondents a menu of legislative action Congress could address before it goes home this year. Asked to choose which should be its top priority, a stunning 39% selected "prohibiting Members of Congress from directing federal funds to specific projects benefiting only certain constituents" — i.e., the pork-barrel spending at the heart of the Congressional earmark process. Immigration reform was in second place with 32%. It would be ironic if the big-spending strategy Tom DeLay thought was a key to shoring up incumbents and keeping GOP control of Congress winds up ending that control.

One of the messages that Mr. Mehlman tried to convey last week to Republicans on Capitol Hill is that continued inaction and business-as-usual behavior by Congress are an easy ticket to losses in this fall's elections. "We have met the enemy, and too often it is us," one GOP member told me. "We either learn lessons from our mistakes in the next few weeks or our own voters will teach us to them in November by staying home."

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JWR contributor John H. Fund is author, most recently, of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

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©2001, John H. Fund