The International Writers Magazine:2006 Mid-Term Elections

Senatorial See Saw
James Campion

According to most polls conducted during the second week of October, the Democrats hold a commanding percentage lead over Republicans in the coming mid-term elections. Of course these polls mean less than nothing, and with three long weeks to go, really, they mean even less that that. But for this space, which more or less put the dirt on the Democratic Party as we know it, there is pause for reflection.

Not so fast.
The flatline is starting to wriggle, beeping ever so slowly, and resuscitation is all the rage. The events covered in last week's Reality Check have taken hold and put the GOP brass in defense mode for the first time in years. It's been two decades since the Democrats have been referred to as favorites and they smell blood in the water.

    Again, we must caution: Meaning? Nothing.
    Firstly, national polls in a congressional election year are as useless as AA meetings on Mel Gibson. People vote locally in these things. Voters won't rush to the polls to oust Republicans because Bush's sad approval ratings are in the Gerald Ford range anymore than they'll carry the outrage of Instant Message Boy Sex into the booth.

    Secondly, and most importantly, Republicans have recent history on their side. In almost every election since George W. Bush signed on, Republicans have been in some kind of political trouble, and in the case of the 2004 presidential campaign, on the brink of defeat. But once the base was roused and the war or terrorism or the very the idea of change was broached by the majority of our citizenry, the GOP came out on top.

    Still, perception is everything in campaigns, and Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman is on the hot seat. He and Master Karl Rove have mere days to start rallying the troops the way they did to great acclaim in the waning moments of two presidential elections, when it looked like Captain Shoo-In was taking the pipe. Now they do it to save our Boy President from an assured impeachment pogrom if the Democrats take the House and Senate back, still an uphill climb but perceived to be much more likely in the wake of scandal after scandal and no positive end in sight for the Iraq mess.

    At the very least, the Republicans are conceding that there are major leaks by having already tipped their hand: Go hard in three of the Senate races they have a legitimate shot at winning to retain power. These include re-election bids for Senator Mike DeWine in Ohio, Senator Jim Talent in Missouri, and Bill Frist's open seat for Bob Corker in Tennessee.

    Out of the nine competitive races across the country, these are the ones the GOP is funneling its majority of money, media manipulation, random polling data, and full-court independent advertising campaigns.

    In Ohio, the state that basically re-elected Bush, economic disaster continues to batter Republican hopes. The state's unemployment rate has skyrocketed to 5.7 percent, a full point higher than the national average. This has unhinged the religious/moral base that came alive in the final weeks of 2004 after Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell rallied the "idiot vote" by demanding a state constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage.

    The aforementioned Mike DeWine, a moderate Republican, currently finds himself embroiled in a scrum with ultra-liberal Democrat Sherrod Brown, but has lost significant ground since the summer. As in every senate race, the Democrats must win in Ohio or lose any chance of gaining even the slightest majority.

    In Missouri, Claire McCaskill, a tough-talking prosecuting attorney who has brazenly compared herself to fellow hometown legend, Harry Truman, is posting a spirited challenge to incumbent Jim Talent. Talent has thus far failed to paint McCaskill as an anti-war weakling, which has thrown this crucial battle into a dead heat.

    And in Tennessee, Bill Frist's open seat has sparked a good old-fashioned southern piss-fight between real estate king Bob Corker, the Republican mayor of Chattanooga, and slick-talking Democratic Representative Harold Ford. If Ford wins, he will be the first African American ever to be elected statewide. This pathetic factoid has Democrat Central refusing to hold its collective breath.

    In all three of these key races the polls have vacillated so much over the past few months it is virtually impossible to tell who will survive. And that's what we're talking about now: The Republicans trying to keep their heads above the waterline by turning this midterm scramble into their Alamo, and the Democrats taking one last swipe at the brass ring before whipping boy Bush heads into the Texas sunset.

    But the Democrats still have the House in play, a more likely scenario for victory this November. Even without the Senate, gaining power there could cobble together enough investigations and censures to cripple the last two years of the Bush Administration and pave a smoother road to whatever chum they send on the presidential campaign trail in 2008.

    However, no one on the Democratic side is willing to concede the Senate just yet, least of all DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who has managed to pull off the near-impossible for the past few months, keep his big trap shut. Any wild outbursts from Dean could queer any deal, and he knows it. For the most part the party high rollers have gagged all the loose lips and have smartly let House Speaker Dennis Hastert take the dance card.

    For all his Washington know-how, Hastert is looking more and more like a man handed the entertainment bill after the Duke Lacrosse team kegger. But Rove and the RNC brain trust can't waste any time bailing him out. He's on his own, and may become an effective national deflection to keep these races local and appeal to the base one last time.
    The guess here is the Republicans keep the Senate, slightly.

    Next we'll tackle the Democrats shot at the House.

© James Campion Oct 16 2006

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