WASHINGTON — The sun is setting on the permanent Republican majority that seemed to offer so much promise after the 2004 election. Or so the chattering class would have us all believe. Public opinion polls now consistently show the voters disapprove of the GOP’s agenda. Social Security reform appears to be going nowhere. The war turns to quagmire. The judicial fight demonstrates the GOP’s lack of control over its own legislative majority in Washington. And will those tax cuts ever be made permanent?
Yet no one predicts with a straight face the Democrats will be the beneficiaries of this stalled agenda (which is largely the Democrats’ doing, by the way). The conventional wisdom holds that the Democrats aren’t gaining even as Republicans lose steam because the Democrats offer no new ideas. Theirs is, in the words of President George W. Bush, “the philosophy of the stop sign. The agenda of the roadblock.” Even their fellow Democrats claim the lack of new intellectual offerings by the Democrat minority is the principal factor holding back a 1994-style upheaval in 2006. Typical of this thinking is the recent strategy memo titled “The Democrats’ Moment to Engage,” by the liberal polling outfit Democracy Corps:
…the president’s deep troubles have produced no rise in positive sentiment about the Democrats. Their thermometer ratings are significantly below 2004, with equal numbers offering warm and cool response to the party. The positive ratings (38 percent) are 5 points below that for the Republicans.
The Democrats can achieve major gains, however, if the party moves decisively to a new stage of engagement. They must poise [sic] sharp choices — ones that define the Democrats, not just the Republicans and ones that, in every battle, make the Democrats the instrument for reforming and changing Washington.
This is hogwash and everyone in Washington knows it. The moment the Democrats articulate an agenda, their already fragile coalition will atomize. And we know from experience that as the election nears the issues debate will even out as the mainstream media’s ability to influence the agenda gives way to the paid advertising of the major parties.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the reasons the Democrats are not poised to benefit from the Republicans’ recent lackluster performance are structural, not ideological; founded in hard electoral facts, not fluctuating public opinion. To put it another way, the Democrats aren’t likely to make major gains in 2006 because they can’t. During the next couple of weeks I will lay out the case against a Republican collapse, for good or ill, based on an electoral structure that rewards incumbency, punishes challengers, and strongly favors the GOP. In politics, the saying goes, everything will be different in 18 months. “Everything” here refers to the issues of the day, the things we discuss around the proverbial water cooler. But political realities shift much more slowly, if at all.
Today, I will look at the campaign for control of the U.S. Senate.p> National Financial Resources br> Unlike the overpowering Republican fundraising advantage between the Republican National Committee and the Democrat National Committee and between the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) are near parity. The NRSC has raised just under $17 million so far this year and has approximately $6 million cash-on-hand. The DSCC has raised just under $16 million and has $8.9 million cash-on-hand. The DSCC’s cash-on-hand advantage is based almost exclusively on a one-month fundraising bonanza last April. /p>
Job number one for these committees is to win competitive open seat races. Job number two is to defend vulnerable incumbents. Job number three is to unseat incumbents from the other party, if possible. The Democrats will need to maintain their fundraising parity with Republicans if they are to succeed in any or all of these three goals because they have more work to do in 2006 than their GOP counterparts.
Eighteen Democratic seats are up next year (including three open seats) compared to 15 for the Republicans (with only one open seat.) Moreover, five Democrat incumbents can reasonably be called “vulnerable” or “potentially vulnerable” compared to only three Republicans. Finally, these “vulnerable’ or “potentially vulnerable” Democrats are in disproportionately more expensive media markets, meaning Democrats will get less bang for their bucks.p> Open Seats br> The frontline in the battle to control the Senate will be in three of next year’s four open seat races: Minnesota, Maryland, and Tennessee (the fourth is Vermont, which is not winnable for the Republicans). Two of these states — Minnesota and Maryland — are open seats the Democrats must defend. The Republicans must defend the open seat in Tennessee.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
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It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?