Republicans Face Midterm '06 Defeats

Imagine this: It’s Jan. 30, 2007. Following President Bush’s State of the Union Address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) deliver their responses. In contrast to the President’s call for making his tax cuts permanent, the two Democratic powerhouses say they intend to repeal them all. In addition, they call for a joint congressional committee to investigate alleged “unconstitutional” actions by the National Security Agency and vow to re-examine the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. Filibusters will not be an issue, Reid pledges, because with the Democrats’ controlling the Senate they will simply vote down all Bush nominees they don’t like.

Unfortunately, there is a good chance the elections this fall could make this political nightmare a reality.

Two months ago, both a politically savvy senior Republican U.S. House member and longtime election observer Bernadette Budde of the Business and Industry Political Action Committee voiced concerns to Human Events that in the final midterm election of the Bush presidency, Republicans could lose their majority in the House for the first time in 12 years. At separate meetings, the lawmaker (who ticked off without hesitation 20 Republican-held House seats in danger of going Democratic in 2006) and Budde agreed that the negative poll ratings for the President and the unfolding Capitol Hill scandal involving convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff might give Democrats the net gain of 15 seats they need to rule the House. (The present lineup in the House is 231 Republicans, 201 Democrats, one independent who votes with the Democrats, and two vacancies.).

Now we are in the election year and many more pundits and pols are predicting that Democrats not only could win back the House this fall, but actually pick up the six seats they need to upend the 55-to-45 Republican Senate majority. Like the last midterm elections of the Reagan era in 1986, in which Democrats increased their House majority and took over the Senate, a similar Democratic resurgence in 2006 could devastate this Republican administration.

Bad Poll Numbers

The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll shows that Democratic candidates for Congress are favored over Republicans by 49% to 43% among likely voters nationwide. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll puts that tilt at 55% to 36% in the Democrats’ favor.

In at least two midterm elections—1974, the so-called “Watergate Year,” and 1998, when the GOP congressional leadership accepted Bill Clinton’s budget without a fight—Republicans lost major ground, in part because their voter base nationally became disillusioned with the party and stayed home. Citing mounting tension between conservatives and the administration over issues such as government spending and the President’s guest worker/amnesty program, veteran political reporter Linda Feldmann of the Christian Science Monitor recently noted that even “though Bush won’t be on the ballot, conservative disappointment in him could hurt the Republican Party in this November’s midterm elections.”

“Not since 1994 has the party in power—in this case the Republicans—faced such a discouraging landscape in a midterm election,” concluded Washington Post political reporters Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza in a recent front-page preview of the 2006 races. “President Bush is weaker than he was just a year ago, a majority of voters in recent polls have signaled their desire for a change in direction, and Democrats outpoll Republicans on which party voters think is more capable of handling the country’s biggest problems.”

Balz and Cilliza cited many of the same endangered Republican-held House seats Human Events cited in December.

Among the Republicans seen as vulnerable in the Senate, Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Mike DeWine (Ohio) both trail their likely Democratic opponents in statewide polls and Conrad Burns (Mont.), the sole GOP senator so far linked to Abramoff and Indian gaming money, only narrowly leads two likely Democratic opponents.

In Rhode Island, liberal Lincoln Chafee, the only GOP senator to oppose the Alito nomination, faces a strong primary challenge from conservative Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey and, if he survives, will be up against a heavyweight Democratic nominee in a very Democratic state.

Moreover, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (who faces multi-millionaire real estate developer Jim Pedersen) and Missouri Sen. James M. Talent (who’s up against ’04 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Claire McKaskill) are both in tough races. Democrats also have hopes of winning the open Tennessee seat with Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., as three Republicans are waging a heated primary for the GOP nomination to succeed retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Will there be a political disaster for the Republican Party, the Bush Administration, and conservatives in general? Much depends on whether the party more strongly embraces its core principles and otherwise behaves in a way that inspires its core voters to go to the polls in November.