BLOOMINGTON, Minn.—Vowing victory in this fall's elections, Republicans emerged Friday from a two-day national strategy session rejecting new independent warnings that they face a possible "electoral rout" and loss of control of Congress.
"It will be a tough election, but we will keep control of the House and Senate," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said Friday.
He made the prediction after unveiling a strategy that he hoped would frame the fall election as a choice between Republicans and Democrats, rather than a referendum on President Bush and Republican control of the government. Party leaders hope that fear of Democrats will trump anger or disappointment with Republicans.
As the Republicans huddled, their public optimism was offset by two new detailed looks at the House and Senate races and the national mood by Larry Sabato, a noted political analyst, and the Cook Political Report. Both concluded that Republicans are in big trouble.
Independent political analyst Charles Cook warned this week that Republicans face the threat of "an electoral rout."
"First, the political climate will be extremely hostile to Republican candidates. Second, while Republicans benefited from turnout in 2002 and 2004, this time voter turnout will benefit Democratic candidates. And third, the advantages that the GOP usually has in national party spending will be significantly less than normal."
Republicans would have to lose a net of 15 seats to lose control of the House; six to lose the Senate.
Cook now lists 15 Republican-held House seats—and no Democratic seats—as tossups.
"In a very large tidal-wave election, as this one appears to be, it would not be unusual to see all tossups go to one party, along with a few out of the leaning column as well," Cook said, referring to races that "lean" in favor of Republicans, but not by much.
"Republicans might lose their House majority just in the seats in which they are behind or in which their edge is within a poll's margin of error," Cook concluded.
At the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, analysts Sabato and David Wasserman said that polls now suggest "that Republicans are headed for their most serious midterm losses in decades."
They likened the anti-incumbent mood to the one in 1994, when anger at Washington swept Democrats out of power in both houses of Congress. They also increased their predictions of Democratic gains in both the House and Senate.
They said they expected Democrats to gain 12 to 15 seats in the House, up from a forecast last month of a gain of six to eight seats. In the Senate, they said they expected Democrats to gain three to six seats, up from a July forecast of two to three seats.
"In this inhospitable climate, the GOP could well get burned worse than initially expected," Wasserman and Sabato wrote.
One important caveat: Many of the moderate Republicans considered most in danger have records of winning in their districts while defying efforts to label them as closely aligned with the rest of their national party.
Mehlman pointedly refused to say Friday how Republican candidates such as Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., who's running for Senate, should campaign on the Iraq war issue, saying they know their districts and states best.
At their meeting, Republican leaders also pinned their hopes on getting voters to tune into what Democrats would do if they controlled the House or Senate.
Mehlman, for example, worked to raise doubts about the Democrats' strength on national security. Punctuating his indictment with the word "surrender," he cited Democratic criticism of warrantless eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, opposition to the Patriot Act and proposals by many Democrats to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
"America faces a critical question," he said. "Will we elect leaders who recognize we're at war and want to use every tool to win it, or politicians who would give up important tools we need to win?"
He also raised the specter of a Democratic Congress raising taxes, trying to impeach Bush and growing the federal government—without noting that the Republicans have increased federal spending more than Democrats did under President Clinton and increased the size of the government more, too.
"Picture what Congress would be like if we do not succeed," he said. "They won't have the White House. But they'll control the purse strings of government. And we know what they'll do."
For more on the Republican National Committee,
For more on the University of Virginia's Center for Politics,
For more on Charles Cook,
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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