One year out from the election, congressional Democrats are increasingly confident they can tighten their hold on the House and Senate.As I've noted before, 2008 is looking to be the best electoral environment for the Democrats in decades. Still, congressional elections are largely decided on localized conditions, so national polling data can be misleading. I'll admit, though, that the Democratic takeover of both chambers in 2006 was pretty stunning. Discontent in the electorate for next year will be significant if current trends stay stable, creating something of a mandate for change, rather than a shift to partisan realignment.
Although public approval of Congress has dipped dramatically since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took control early this year, Democratic operatives believe they still can expand their majorities in 2008 by running hard against President Bush and his war policies. Republicans are also hampered by mounting retirements of veteran member and a huge disparity in fundraising by the two parties.
"I'd much rather be in our shoes than their shoes," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "George Bush and his legacy will be on the ballot."
Democrats wrested control of both chambers last year for the first time since 1994. The Democrats began the 110th Congress this year with a 233 to 202 vote edge over the Republicans, while on the Senate side Democrats and Republicans are evenly divided, 49 to 49, but two independents caucus with the Democrats, giving them a narrow ruling majority.
Van Hollen initially hoped his party could merely preserve their current majority in the 2008 election, after they picked up 30 seats last year, including many in conservative-leaning districts. Now, Van Hollen says he is "very much on offense" because of Bush's continued poor approval ratings and the sustained unpopularity of the Iraq war, both of which he expects to drag down a significant number of Republican incumbents.
Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, flatly predicted a pickup of GOP seats next year, but without setting a target. "We expect to win all 12 [Democratic incumbents] and pick up a nice number of Republican seats," he said.
But Republicans contend that Democrats are running next year's campaign based on the previous political battle, overlooking the fact that their nascent majority has few substantial achievements and Congress is now even more unpopular than Bush.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Bush's approval rating at a career low mark of 33 percent, but approval of Congress is only 28 percent.
While Republicans acknowledge Bush is currently a drag on their approval ratings, they are increasingly insistent that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) will be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008 and that she will weigh down Democratic congressional candidates more than Bush with GOP candidates.
In any case, I'm not making any predictions at this point. Note, though, that Jim Geraghty at the National Review remains bullish on GOP hopes next year:
Gloom hangs over Republicans when they think of next year’s elections — but it shouldn’t. The sea change in political fortunes between 2004 and 2006 should not remind Righties only that the winds can change quickly — from a supportive breeze at your back, to a gale-force wind in your face — they should also be reminded that the political landscape can get better fast, too.It's still early, of course (so it's good to withhold prognostications), but I'm certain that continued progress in Iraq will bode well for GOP candidates.
Next year could be a surprisingly good one for the GOP, though it’s clearly not guaranteed. The party will need good candidate recruitment, message discipline, a clear, unifying agenda, and a bit of good luck. But on a wide variety of fronts, there are pieces of good news that are overshadowed by the mainstream media’s preferred “Democratic-Tsunami Part Two” narrative.