With Election Day still 23 days away, Congressional Democrats already are measuring the drapes on Capitol Hill.
Despite record low approval ratings, and negative voter reaction to
the financial bailout, Democrats are still polling well in most of
their incumbent seats and making gains in Republican strongholds. The
Democrat ambition is staggering - another 30 seats in the House (to
their 235 majority), a 60-seat, filibuster-proof hold of the Senate and
the White House. If successful, it would constitute a one-party control
of the legislature and executive, rare in the history of American
Without the ability to filibuster the Senate (and with no recourse
as a minority in the House), the Republicans will have little chance to
block healthcare, Supreme Court nominees and other agenda items of a
possible Barack Obama administration.
Prior to the outbreak of the credit crunch three weeks ago that
sent Wall Street and world financial markets reeling, New York Sen.
Charles Schumer - the chief election strategist for Senate Democrats -
was hedging his bets on the prospects of his party reaching 60 seats.
But last week, with voters' concerns shifting almost solely to the
worsening economy and nearly every competitive Senate race being fought
on Republican territory, Schumer signaled in remarks to reporters that
he is now bullish on the nine-seat gain.
"The wind is more strongly at our back than ever," said Schumer,
chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which spends
on campaigns nationally.
"The message of economic change is just succeeding everywhere. Over
the past three weeks we've seen a dramatic shift in our direction."
But if Republicans ultimately do have a bad election night, it won't be for lack of trying.
Particularly among Senate Republicans, the incumbents running for
re-election are better funded than their Democratic opponents; they
have waged vigorous campaigns; and remain in the thick of their
respective races despite an exceedingly poor political environment for
the GOP and the DSCC's significant fund-raising advantage over the
National Republican Senatorial Committee.
For House Republicans, the potential for a bloodbath a few weeks
hence is tightly tied to McCain's prospects of winning the presidency.
Democrats are targeting 50 Republican-held House districts - a handful
of usually reliable GOP seats among them - and their strategy is
bolstered by the fact that the campaign arm for House Democrats, the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has approximately $40
million more to spend on races than does its Republican counterpart.
Time is running short.
"This election, more than most, is very volatile," said Rep. Tom
Cole of Oklahoma, the top political strategist for House Republicans
and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
"The better John McCain performs on Nov. 4, the better our chances of winning in Congressional races."