Democrats think they’ll take back the House this fall for the first time in 12 years, and most independent analysts agree with them. The well-respected Charlie Cook foresees “a very large tidal wave election” sweeping Republicans out of office.
But this elation could be premature. Republicans have used their majority to build a series of impregnable – and in some cases, illegal – seawalls against just the sort of “tidal wave” Cook sees coming. The power of incumbency in Washington is greater than ever, and even if the voters clearly believe “it’s time for a change,” they might not get it.
Mark Mellman, a well-connected Democratic pollster, is realistic about his party’s problems. “There’s a big anti-Republican wave building,” he told the Christian Science Monitor, “but that wave will crash up against a very stable political structure, and nobody will know till Wednesday morning (the day after the election) which is more important – the size of the wave or the stability of the structure.”
Don’t be fooled by Connecticut’s Democratic primary, where Sen. Joe Lieberman lost to a challenger, Ned Lamont, running on a “throw the bum out” platform. Lieberman was an easy target compared to the Republican House members who have created safe districts and huge war chests to insulate themselves from the wrath of the voters.
To be sure, those GOP lawmakers are running in a very hostile atmosphere. In the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, 52 percent of registered voters say they’d vote Democratic today, with 39 percent favoring the GOP. Strikingly, 30 percent of conservatives are ready to oust the Republicans.
Fifty-three percent describe themselves as “anti-incumbent,” while only 29 percent are “pro-incumbent.” That’s almost identical to the level of dissatisfaction registered in 1994 when Republicans overturned 40 years of Democratic rule in the House. In the Zogby poll, 22 percent rate the performance of the Republican-controlled Congress as excellent or good, 75 percent call it fair or poor
But with the election less than 100 days away, the Democrats face enormous problems of their own, and the first one is their posture on Iraq. As the Connecticut primary demonstrated, the party is badly split. Fifty-two percent backed Lamont, a harsh war critic, while 48 percent supported Lieberman, a defender of the president’s position. In the ABC/Post poll, only 27 percent said the Democrats have charted a “clear path” in Iraq, below even Bush’s 33 percent clarity rating.
A larger obstacle for Democrats is the “very stable political structure” described by Mellman. Incumbents have always used their power to enhance their re-election chances: sending free mail, solving constituent problems, steering federal funds back home. But the GOP has taken this incumbent protection racket to a whole new level...