NOT SO FAST
With polling numbers in the Maryland Senate Democrat primary now showing that relative outsider, former congressman and former head of the NAACP Kweisi Mfume is leading Rep. Ben Cardin in some polls above the margin of error, national Democrats are growing progressively pessimistic that they will make serious gains in the November elections.
Mainstream media outlets have been attempting over the past few weeks to slowly let the air out of a balloon they themselves filled with their abundant hot air about Democratic momentum moving toward a potential retaking of both houses of Congress.
"We probably started that drumbeat too early and we're losing a lot of that momentum," says a Democratic political strategist. "You could blame a lot of things, Howard Dean, and some of our more established candidates, but I would blame the Lieberman/Lamont race and the blogosphere. Things just move too fast nowadays."
The Connecticut Democrat Senate primary put a national spotlight on the inner-workings of the Democrat Party and they weren't pretty. Voters saw a far-left wing of the party with remarkable sway over a mainstream majority with little interest in a fight.
"More important, in most primaries, is that ten to 15 percent of undecided voters have already vented about Iraq," says another Democrat consultant. "The problem is, those voters wanted to express their dissatisfaction with Iraq, but they also want a solution. Pulling out isn't the solution many of them want. They aren't going to be voting for an anti-war candidate. I think my party has overshot its position."
The showing of Republican Michael Steele, as well as others, such as Mike McGavick in Washington, and Tom Kean, Jr. in New Jersey, along with stabilized numbers for Sen. Rick Santorum, have Democrats in the Senate scrambling to find some good news to pass along to their donors.
The possibility of failure on the Senate side is one reason for the renewed rumors of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton looking to fill a leadership slot for Democrats in the Senate. Over the weekend, London papers reported that Clinton was looking to fill the minority leader shoes currently filled by Sen. Harry Reid.
Her decision to take a leadership slot, rather than run for the presidency, may in part be determined by the outcome of the Lieberman race in Connecticut, say advisers to the junior senator. "If Lieberman wins, it leaves all of the anger on the far left focused on her," says one New York-based adviser. "It might be easier -- and more appealing -- for her to become leader of the party in the Senate."
FACING THE MUSIC
As Republican House members return home from three weeks in their districts, the news is mixed, according the House insiders. But the news is also more positive than negative. While a number of House seats are in play, GOP House members who were down as much as ten points before returning home, are coming back to Washington with polling data that shows many of them back on solid footing with their constituencies.
"I think there is rightly a lot of anger about the way Iraq and the Middle East is looking," says one House member from the upper northeast. "But I think my poll numbers -- and those of my colleagues -- had a lot to do with being complacent and hesitant to deal with the issues full on. I went home, worked my butt off, and feel like I'm in a better position than I was a month ago."
Staffers in the White House have been talking up the possibilities of an "October Surprise" or two leading into the mid-term elections. They say the President feels confident he can still play a role in the election, that he intends to campaign hard for Republicans, and that on the policy front, there are a couple of issues that can be used as wedges along the way.
One priority is to help Sen. Jim Talent in his re-election bid in Missouri. Another is to show some stabilized leadership and focus on the Middle East. But those inside the White House see the attempted diminution by the mainstream media of political adviser Karl Rove as a sure sign that this White House has a shot at having a hand in maintaining Republican control of Congress.
"The New York Times saying that Karl's word isn't gospel tells me that the left wants to try to marginalize him, and that isn't going to work," says a White House staffer. "He's going to have something to say about this election cycle, and so will the President."
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