Dam­aged brand with prospects

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

The Repub­li­can brand is badly dam­aged and won’t be in the ma­jor­ity any­time soon. But in­de­pen­dent cam­paign an­a­lysts say the GOP will likely make gu­ber­na­to­rial and House gains any­way in the 2009-10 elec­tion cy­cle.

The rea­sons have more to do with po­lit­i­cal ge­og­ra­phy and math than with any fore­casts about what the eco­nomic cli­mate will look like this year and next when the off-year and midterm elec­tions will be in­flu­enced by the by whether the na­tion’s econ­omy re­sponds to Pres­i­dent Obama’s stim­u­lus pro­grams.

Repub­li­cans will just have more op­por­tu­ni­ties than the Democrats next time around in the con­gres­sional and gu­ber­na­to­rial races. Lit­tle at­ten­tion is be­ing paid to the gov­er­nor­ship bat­tle­grounds right now, but in the next two years, 38 states will hold gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions and more Demo­cratic seats will be at stake (21) than Repub­li­can seats (17).

More im­por­tant, there are more vul­ner­a­ble Demo­cratic gov­er­nor­ships in this cy­cle in heav­ily Repub­li­can states than vul­ner­a­ble Repub­li­can ones in Demo­cratic states.

“It’s way too early to hand­i­cap over­all prospects, but Republi- cans could make sig­nif­i­cant gains in gov­er­nor­ships in 2010,” elec­tions an­a­lyst Nathan L. Gon­za­les wrote in the Rothen­berg Po­lit­i­cal Re­port that tracks the elec­tions.

“Democrats must now de­fend in a num­ber of GOP-lean­ing states (such as Kansas, Ok­la­homa, Wy­oming and Ten­nessee) that they’ve held for six years but are com­ing open be­cause of term lim­its,” he says.

On the other hand, Repub­li­can chances of hold­ing state­houses ap­pear bleak at this point in heav­ily Demo­cratic Cal­i­for­nia and smaller Demo­cratic states like Hawaii and Rhode Is­land.

Ac­cord­ing to Rothen­berg’s pre­lim­i­nary count, three Demo­cratic-held gov­er­nor­ships leaned to Repub­li­can takeovers (in Kansas, Ok­la­homa and Wy­oming) and four other open Demo­cratic seats (Michi­gan, Penn­syl­va­nia, Ten­nessee and Vir­ginia) were rated tossups.

On the Repub­li­can side, only five ap­peared up for grabs, in- clud­ing two tossups: South Dakota (open) and Ne­vada where Gov Jim Gib­bons “looks like he’ll lose ei­ther in the pri­mary or gen­eral elec­tion,” Mr. Gon­za­les said. In GOP-heavy Kansas, for ex­am­ple, the likely Repub­li­can nom­i­nee will be Sen. Sam Brown­back, who is ex­pected to be its next gov­er­nor.

But Democrats have trou­ble else­where, too, in this year’s only two gu­ber­na­to­rial con­tests in Vir­ginia and New Jer­sey. Democrats have had a good run in Vir­ginia, winning back-to-back state­house races, both Se­nate seats and two House elec­tions, and putting the state in Barack Obama’s elec­toral col­umn, to boot. But the GOP’s prospects of winning the gov­er­nor­ship this year look good.

Vir­ginia Democrats face a bit­ter three-way pri­mary fight, while for­mer state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bob McDon­nell has clear sail­ing for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion and a pile of ready cam­paign cash. In New Jer­sey, Demo­cratic Gov. Jon Corzine has grown in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar — 38 per­cent fa­vor­able and 48 per­cent un­fa­vor­able, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Fair­leigh Dick­in­son poll. Repub­li­cans are ral­ly­ing their party be­hind for­mer U.S. At­tor­ney Christo­pher Christie. Mr. Corzine, who made mil­lions on Wall Street as head of Gold­man Sachs and spent $43 mil­lion on his last race, will plow what­ever it takes into his re­elec­tion cam­paign. Vet­eran elec­tion track­ers there say any­one with that much cash is not to be un­der­es­ti­mated. But Democrats this time around are wor­ried that, even with his vast wealth, Mr. Corzine could be pulled down by a wors­en­ing re­ces­sion that has hit the state hard.

Mean­time, the House re­mains firmly in the Democrats’ grip. The GOP holds 178 seats and would need to win an in­sur­mount­able 40 more to put them into the ma­jor­ity.

But Repub­li­can prospects ap­pear brighter in some of dis­tricts they lost last year be­cause of Pres­i­dent Bush’s un­pop­u­lar­ity, the high Demo­cratic Party en­ergy level fu­eled by Mr. Obama’s cam­paign and a se­vere re­ces­sion.

Democrats do have bet­ter fund-rais­ing re­sources this time, be­cause the party in power draws more money from spe­cial in­ter­ests seek­ing in­flu­ence on Capi­tol Hill.

But House Democrats face draw­backs, too. “They also cur­rently hold many Repub­li­can­lean­ing, con­ser­va­tive dis­tricts, mak­ing those in­cum­bents vul­ner­a­ble to a likely drop-off in turnout in a midterm year,” vet­eran elec­tion tracker Stu­art Rothen­berg re­ported in his lat­est House Out­look For 2010.

“While it’s far too early to put a num­ber on net changes this cy­cle, Repub­li­cans sim­ply have more op­por­tu­ni­ties for pick­ups than do Democrats,” he said.

It goes without say­ing the Se­nate is all but a lost cause next year for the Repub­li­cans. Four GOP seats are at best tossups right now: Sen. Jim Bun­ning in Ken­tucky, who barely squeaked by in his last elec­tion, and three open seats in Florida, Mis­souri and Ohio, where Democrats have shown in­creas­ing strength.

Sev­eral other GOP in­cum­bents face tough races in North Carolina, New Hamp­shire, Penn­syl­va­nia and es­pe­cially in Louisiana, where Sen. David Vit­ter is in trou­ble over his re­la­tion­ship with a high-end pros­ti­tute.

It’s not a pretty pic­ture for Repub­li­cans over­all, but gains among the state gov­er­nor­ships and in the House next year would show there is still life left in the GOP and that last year’s obit­u­ar­ies were a bit pre­ma­ture.

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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