Analyst Charlie Cook, quoting his Republican sister, says the GOP suffers from “electile dysfunction,” and he predicts Democrats will significantly pad their margins in the House and Senate.
But Republicans may have found rallying points offshore and abroad to minimize the damage to their congressional candidates and to presidential nominee John McCain.
Polls show that two-thirds to three-fourths of Americans favor drilling offshore for new oil supplies, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich says he has more than 1.3 million signatures in support of this policy.
Republican lawmakers will try to push Congress to follow President Bush in allowing further exploration, and Democrats who oppose it could risk looking like they’re indifferent to the damage rising gasoline prices are doing to family budgets and the economy.
When the oil futures market went down $10 a barrel in the two days after Bush made his announcement, it enhanced Republican arguments that current prices are inflated because U.S. policies are too tight on exploration and drilling.
On another front, the anti-Iraq war position that carried presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama to early success in the primaries is not such a clear-cut advantage for him now.
His trip to Iraq and Europe could enhance his stature as a statesman, but it does not come without risks. A misstatement could feed arguments that he’s too untested to run the nation’s foreign policy.
Obama is in something of an Iraq box. He has said he would get the U.S. effectively and responsibly out of Iraq within 16 months if he is elected.
If he backed off that promise – something critics said he was doing by suggesting he’d “refine” his position after his Iraq visit – he’d risk losing his liberal base and could be labeled a flip-flopping opportunist on a serious national security matter.
But Obama also confronts an evolving reality in Iraq that is lending credence to McCain’s pro-surge position.
As right as Obama says he was in opposing the war before it started, he also was wrong in predicting that the surge of troops sent in by Bush in 2007 would worsen sectarian violence and put the U.S. further in a civil war “quagmire.”
By almost any objective measure, the surge has stabilized Iraq, to the point where further troop withdrawals and an Iraqi election could take place before the next American president takes office.
By belatedly, and seemingly grudgingly, recognizing the surge’s success, Obama opens himself up to criticism that he, not McCain, has the most rigid and unrealistic plan for Iraq, regardless of whether the United States should have ever invaded.
Most Americans agree with him that the war should not have been fought, but they are not so clear-cut in who they think has the best chance of getting the United States out.
And McCain had a legitimate point in asking why Obama gave a major speech on the war before meeting commanders and seeing conditions on the ground in Iraq.
But these may simply be glimpses of sun through clouds for Republicans. Pollster Glen Bolger, whose Public Opinion Strategies is one of the top Republican congressional candidate firms, said that it’s every man or woman for himself or herself on Senate and congressional races this fall.
Bolger said “nothing is going to fix the Republican brand between now and November,” and candidates “have to run these races on their own.”
Bolger also said McCain was probably the best nominee the Republicans could have for this sour cycle because of his perceived independence, but “John McCain is not going to win this for” other Republicans on the ballot.
Gallup’s latest poll showed Congress’ approval rating at an historically low 14 percent. Republicans will spend the next five months reminding voters the Democrats are in control, and in a wedge.
Their environmentalist wing will fight the drilling, but left unresolved, the issue could be a powerful symbol of congressional indifference in the middle of an election year.
Chuck Raasch is political editor for Gannett News Service. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Get more behind-the-scenes reports, context and analysis about politicians and the political process in Raasch’s Furthermore blog.