The latest polls show something very strange and quite encouraging is happening: The Republican base seems to be coming back home. This trend, only vaguely and dimly emerging from a variety of polls, suggests that a trend may be afoot that would deny the Democrats control of the House and the Senate.
With two weeks to go, anything can happen, but it is beginning to look possible that the Democratic surge in the midterm elections may fall short of control in either House.
Here’s the evidence:
- Pollsters Scott Rasmussen and John Zogby both show Republican Bob Corker gaining on Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. in Tennessee, a must-win Senate seat for the Democrats. Zogby has Corker ahead by seven, while Rasmussen still shows a Ford edge of two points.
- Zogby reports a "turnaround" in New Jersey’s Senate race with the GOP candidate Tom Kean taking the lead, a conclusion shared by some other public polls.
- Even though Sen. Jim Talent in Missouri is still under the magic 50 percent threshold for an incumbent, Rasmussen has him one point ahead and Zogby puts him three up. But unless he crests 50 percent, he’ll probably still lose.
- Even though he is a lost cause, both Rasmussen and Zogby show Montana’s Republican Sen. Conrad Burns cutting the gap and moving up.
- In Virginia, Republican embattled incumbent Sen. George Allen has now moved over the 50 percent threshold in his internal polls. (He’d been at 48 percent.)
Nationally, Zogby reports that the generic Democratic edge is down to four points, having been as high as nine two weeks ago.
None of these data indicates that the Republicans are out of trouble yet, but Democrats must win one of these three races: Ford in Tennessee, Menendez in New Jersey or Webb in Virginia. If not, they’ll fall at least one seat short of controlling the Senate even if they succeed in knocking off all five vulnerable GOP incumbents in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Missouri.
Why are Republican fortunes brightening?
The GOP base, alienated by the Foley scandal and the generally dismal record of this Congress, may have fast forwarded to the prospect of a Democratic victory and recoiled. They may have pondered the impact of a repeal of the Patriot Act, a ban on NSA wiretapping and a requirement of having an attorney present in terrorist questioning — and decided not to punish the country for the sins of the Republican leaders.
Bush’s success in dealing with North Korea and his willingness to reassess tactics in Iraq could also play a part in the slight shift now underway.
Then, too, some in the Democratic Party must be finally realizing what a disastrous decision it was to put Howard Dean in as party chairman. The Democratic National Committee is broke and borrowing, while the GOP can afford to fund fully its key races.
Right now, we would have to say that control of Congress has gone from "lean Democrat" to a "toss-up." And that’s progress for the Republicans.
Eileen McGann co-authored this column.