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Democrats should be in trouble, but ...
Media General News Service


October 10, 2007
Wednesday PM

WASHINGTON -- If a play gets bad reviews, it closes. If a movie bombs, it's banished to cable.

A worker who gets terrible performance reports knows it's time to dust off his resume.

So, when Congress' approval rating plummets, the handwriting is on the wall for the party in power, right?

Well, not exactly.

To be sure, Congress' approval ratings have sunk to historically low levels since Democrats gained control in the 2006 elections. People have a lower opinion of Congress than they do of President Bush. But it's Republicans -- not Democrats -- who are singing the blues, and not just because Hillary Rodham Clinton is running ahead of Rudolph Giuliani in the presidential polls.

Republicans seem tantalizingly close to regaining control of the Senate, where there's a 49-49 split, with two independents usually voting with Democrats. And yet, the way it looks now, Democrats are poised to pick up seats for a stronger Senate majority.

Of the 34 Senate seats up next year, Republicans have to defend 22. That's 10 more than Democrats must defend. Plus, Republicans are at a disadvantage with campaign money. They have many more seats to defend, but their fund-raising lags the Democrats'.

The decision by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., not to run for re-election made the fourth tough open seat Republicans will be fighting to keep. Others are in Colorado, Nebraska and Virginia.

The mean cost of running for an open Senate seat is a cool $1.8 million, according to the American Enterprise Institute.

Democrats are thought to have a vulnerable incumbent in Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and some question whether Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who has been sick, will run for re-election.

Only 22 percent of Americans approved of the job Congress is doing, while 31 percent approve of the president's job performance, according to the latest AP-Ipsos poll. Republicans haven't been able to capitalize on congressional discontent. It's been a long time since the "Contract with America" gave congressional Republicans a platform. The Senate's razor-thin margin is a recipe for gridlock, and that's what the public sees.

Polls show that more people think the country is going in the wrong direction, but they also say that Democrats would lead it the right way, especially on Iraq. Republican voters complain that their party has lost its claim to fiscal discipline. When Bush decided to veto a bill because of its cost, he chose a child health insurance program that had strong bipartisan support.

It would be silly to call any election so far ahead. For one thing, the Internet is the X factor.

Last year, the Internet was a huge factor in the Virginia Senate race. Virginians elected a Democrat, Jim Webb, after Republican incumbent George Allen's "macaca" moment replayed endlessly on the Web.

This time, Virginia is in play with the retirement of Republican John Warner, and early signs are it's going to get nasty.

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, who decided earlier this year not to run for president because he wanted to spend more time with his family, entered the Senate race last month.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee was ready with an anti-Warner Web site,

The site features an ad from 2001 with a clip of Warner saying, "I won't raise taxes" -- played against slides of various items on which his $1.38 billion tax increase raised taxes, including aspirin and diapers.

On YouTube, but no longer on a state Republican Party Web site, is an insinuating ad that asks: "Why didn't Mark Warner run for President?"

The ad includes a clip from the movie "Primary Colors" that shows campaign staffers wondering why a candidate didn't run for president and scoffs at his stated reason, that he wanted to spend more time with his family.

One character says, "What, he wanted to stay home with his kids? 'I'd rather be Dad than president'? Give me a (expletive) break."

The state party took down the ad supposedly after learning about the expletive. The bad word was hard to miss, though, since it was said twice.

Here we are 13 months until the election, and the Republicans are mocking someone for caring more about his family than the Oval Office? That's rich from the party of family values.


Marsha Mercer is Washington bureau chief of Media General News Service.
E-mail mmercer(at)
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Ketchikan, Alaska