Dems give GOP reason for hope in Congress

David Broder:

The day had been full of ominous warnings. Polls showed the Republicans on the losing side of almost every issue and the 2008 presidential race -- and now they're forced to defend a controversial veto of a popular children's health bill.

But Tom Cole, the 58-year-old Oklahoma representative who this year took on the responsibility for running the GOP's congressional campaign, was remarkably sanguine -- considering.

He had been reading about the Post-ABC News poll showing that Hillary Rodham Clinton had established a commanding lead for the Democratic presidential nomination and was beating Rudy Giuliani, the current Republican front-runner, 51 percent to 43 percent in a hypothetical matchup.


The same poll showed President Bush's approval rating at 33 percent, equaling his historic low, and congressional Republicans' even lower, at 29 percent, the lowest ever recorded for them. Democrats are trusted more than Republicans when it comes to handling Iraq, health care, the economy and the federal budget, the poll said, and the two parties are tied on terrorism -- supposedly the Republicans' strong suit.

So how could he be reasonably satisfied with his party's prospects? The answer: The Democrats are also looking like dogs.

The approval score for their party in Congress has sunk to 38 percent -- down 10 points since a similar poll taken just before the 2006 election that gave the Democrats their first congressional majority since 1994.

Congress as a whole rated only 29 percent approval, down 14 points from its start in January. The reason: People think it has been spinning its wheels. By 82 percent to 16 percent, those polled said it has accomplished little or nothing this year. Half blame Bush and the Republicans; a quarter, the Democrats; and a separate fifth, both parties.

Cole, who admits Republicans hurt themselves in 2006 with scandals and out-of-control spending, said the poll confirmed for him a comment he heard this week from a Republican colleague. Speaking of the Democrats, he said, "My God, they're dragging themselves down to our level."

It all adds up, Cole said, to a political environment reminiscent of 1992 -- a tough year for entrenched incumbents of both parties who suddenly saw their margins shrink or disappear. "The American people are rising up in disgust," Cole said, "and incumbents will pay. It's not anti-Republican anymore. It's anti-Washington."

Cole argues that the House Democratic leadership has made a strategic error by wielding its narrow majority to craft partisan bills that invite a Bush veto. That was the case with several resolutions to shorten the Iraq war, and it will be the case later this fall with a series of appropriations bills. Polarization is exactly what the voters hate, Cole said; they are looking for cooperation and agreement.

...

The Democrats are building a record to run against. They think that all those votes on the war will hurt Republicans, but the opposite is more likely as the war is being won and the Democrat strategy of retreat and defeat is shown to be a real loser that would have killed the victory we are now winning in Iraq. The closer we get tot he election the more apparent that victory will appear and the more disastrous the Democrat strategy for defeat will appear.

The Democrats performance on earmarks is also a winner for Republicans. It will be easy to demonstrate that Democrats' claims of fiscal responsibility were fraudulent. Then there is the war tax proposal, which is really a tax to permit them to spend more on domestic vote buying schemes.

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