Momentum: Has The GOP Lost It? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Last man standing

Like a classic boxing match, where two opponents surge and sink as they are able to land a solid punch, the Democrats and Republicans are in a battle of back and forth as they attempt to gain and hold the momentum until the final bell. Each side has resolved that a knock out is unlikely which has led both sides to adopt strategies that seek to end strong in order to garner the votes of those who may still be undecided.

For much of the year, it appeared that the stars had aligned such that the Democrats might cruise to a convincing victory that would likely result in control of the House and possibly the Senate if the wave of anti-incumbency were sufficient. Nonetheless, until the revelation of the scandal involving Congressman Mark Foley, it looked as if the GOP had found its legs and was ready to mount a late round flurry. With the thwarting of an alleged terror plot in Britain and the President's incessant focus on terrorism, the GOP seemed prepared to keep the Democrats on the ropes...attempting to fend off accusations of weakness and the lack of an alternative strategy.

With less than five weeks till Election Day, it looks as if the Democrats may have retaken the momentum as the Republican's left themselves open to intense criticism over the apparent mishandling of Congressman Foley's career ending and potentially criminal actions. Today, in a new article, Charlie Cook offered his up to the minute analysis of the midterm election.

My theory for a while now has been that the direction of this election would be determined by what people are thinking about in the days or weeks leading into the election. If their minds are on terrorism, national security or falling gas prices, Republicans have a good chance of holding onto their House majority and keeping their Senate losses to around three to six seats. But if the spotlight shifts back to the Iraq war, with other issues like scandals and federal budget deficits entering into the mix, then the odds are the GOP will lose its majority. If this occurs, the possibility of a 20- to 25-seat loss (or even greater) in the House becomes plausible, and the Senate would be in real danger as well.

Several events caused this coming inflection point. First, a leaked report by the Marines' intelligence chief in Iraq said that the Anbar province was effectively lost. Next came excerpts of the latest Bob Woodward book on Bush and his administration's handling of the war, which seems to corroborate many of the worst suspicions of the president's critics. Finally, excerpts of Colin Powell's new book pour more gasoline onto the same fire.

Finally, the recent rash of school shootings may or may not hurt the GOP, but the tragic news certainly isn't going to help Republicans' standing among many moderate and independent suburban voters (though Democrats have played down the gun issue in recent years in an effort to reclaim lost ground among union members and rural America).

For a little more than a month starting in mid-August, the Republican Party got a lot of favorable breaks, rekindling hopes that it could survive this election without getting scalped or decapitated. But those hopes may have been premature. Have we seen dramatic movement away from Republicans in the last few days? No, not yet. But if we've hit another inflection point, watch for momentum to shift yet again -- this time, back to Democrats.

As I've said before, this election, more than most in recent memory, is very difficult to predict. Given the many volatile issues as well as the potential for unexpected and unforeseen events, we may well not be able to anticipate the outcome until the numbers are tallied. That reality ought to be instructive and it ought to lead both parties to prepare for a host of possibilities. Momentum is fleeting and fickle...and that may mean that the Party which reacts first and with the right measure of resolve to any remaining "inflection" points will hold on to witness their opponent being counted out on November 7th.

Daniel DiRito | October 3, 2006 | 3:57 PM
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