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GOP to Hang On By Skin of Its Teeth This Fall?

Had you asked me two weeks ago what party would control Congress after next month’s elections, I would have said the GOP, pointing to polling data showing a shift toward my party as well as signs of a significant uptick in GOP fundraising. And then came Mark Foley’s disgrace.

While Democrats do not have a “smoking gun” showing that any member of the House leadership knew of the sexually explicit nature of then-Rep. Mark Foley’s Internet communications with pages (until the date he resigned), this scandal has tarred the GOP (at least temporarily). While there is, as of yet, no evidence that any ranking Republican did anything wrong, the appearance of impropriety could well damage the party’s prospects.

It has yet to be seen how much this “scandal” will damage the GOP. Given how much the Democrats and MSM bring it up, they seem certain that it is the ticket to voting Republicans out. Yet, if they Democrats see this as their “ace in the hole” much as the GOP saw then-President Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky as the ticket to victory back in 1998, they’ll be in for a big surprise come November 7, just as Republicans were in for a big surprise eight years ago.

If, however, the Democrats manage to come up with a positive message for the last stretch of the campaign, they may well succeed in convincing voters that they will better be able to lead than the GOP. But, while it seems that recent events have painted a rather unflattering picture of the GOP, the Democrats haven’t done much to improve their own image.

Two weeks ago, if I were a betting man, I’d have bet on the GOP to hold both Houses. Last week, I would have bet on the Democrats picking up at least one house. This week, I just wouldn’t bet because I don’t know.

Whether or not the GOP holds Congress will depend on a number of things, including how good a campaign they run in the next three weeks, how successful they are at Get Out the Vote (GOTV) and finally whether or not last-minute voters break their way. We know that the GOP has a better (GOTV) operation than the Democrats. But that alone will not be alone to hold their majorities.

We may soon see if any trends develop toward the GOP — or away from it — as the election approaches. I am still inclined to think that this election will resemble one held fourteen years ago. Mo, not the American election which brought Bill Clinton to power, but the British election which kept John Major’s Tories in power. There, while Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party had been leading in the polls, as I noted four months ago, “voters deciding at the last minute opted for the incumbent party, not confident that the Kinnock, from Labour’s left wing, could pull the UK out of its then-lingering recession.”

Without a recession — and with an ever strengthening economy — the GOP is in much better shape than was Britain’s victorious Tory Party in 1992. And given the Democrats’ failure to put forward a message beyond saying “We’re not George W. Bush,” I’d say my party could still hang out this fall, but, just like John Major’s Tories, by the skin of our teeth.