G.O.P. Seen to Be in Peril of Losing House


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

September 4, 2006

G.O.P. Seen to Be in Peril of Losing House

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 ‹ After a year of political turmoil, Republicans enter the 
fall campaign with their control of the House in serious jeopardy, the 
possibility of major losses in the Senate, and a national mood so unsettled that
districts once considered safely Republican are now competitive, analysts and 
strategists in both parties say.

Sixty-five days before the election, the signs of Republican vulnerability are 

Indiana, which President Bush carried by 21 percentage points in 2004, now has 
three Republican House incumbents in fiercely contested races. Around the 
country, some of the most senior Republicans are facing their stiffest 
challenges in years, including Representative E. Clay Shaw Jr. of Florida, the 
veteran Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee; Representative Nancy 
L. Johnson of Connecticut, a state increasingly symbolic of this year¹s 
political unrest; and Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio, the No. 4 Republican
in the House.

Two independent political analysts have, in recent weeks, forecast a narrow 
Democratic takeover of the House, if current political conditions persist. 
Stuart Rothenberg, who had predicted Democratic gains of 8 to 12 seats in the 
House, now projects 15 to 20. Democrats need 15 to regain the majority. Charles 
Cook, the other analyst, said: ³If nothing changes, I think the House will turn.
The key is, if nothing changes.²

Republican leaders are determined to change things. Unlike the Democrats of 
1994, caught off guard and astonished when they lost control of the Senate and 
the House that year, the Republicans have had ample warning of the gathering 

³I have been in all these tough races, and the ones in those tough races are 
doing what they have to do,² said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the 
House majority leader, who spent all but two days of the August recess 
campaigning for fellow Republicans. ³It is a difficult environment. I can see us
losing a seat or two. But I don¹t see us losing our majority at all.²

Representative Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign 
Committee, countered, ³The Republicans are playing defense in over 40 races ‹ 
one-tenth of the House.²

³My biggest worry,² Mr. Emanuel said, ³is getting overpowered from a financial 

A turnover in the Senate, which would require the Democrats to pick up six 
seats, is considered a longer shot. Democrats¹ greatest hopes rest with 
Pennsylvania, Montana, Rhode Island, Ohio and Missouri; the sixth seat is more 
of a leap of faith.

It would require Democrats to carry a state like Tennessee, Arizona or Virginia,
where Democratic hopes are buoyed as Senator George Allen, a Republican, deals 
with the fallout from his using a demeaning term for a young man of Indian 
descent at a rally last month.

Democrats must also beat back Republican challenges to Senate seats in 
Washington, New Jersey, Maryland and Minnesota.

National polls show that key indicators ‹ presidential approval ratings, 
Congressional approval ratings, attitudes on the direction of the country ‹ 
reflect an electorate unhappy with the status quo and open to change.

³It¹s the most difficult off-year cycle for the Republicans since 1982,² said 
Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and former chief of staff to the
Republican National Committee. ³Environmentally, it¹s about as good from the 
Democratic perspective as they could hope to have.²

In the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll, just 29 percent said the country was
headed in the right direction, a measure of national pessimism that rivals the 
26 percent who felt that way in October 1994. The war in Iraq, the price of gas 
and a sense of economic unease all play roles, analysts say. The mood is 
particularly sour in states like Indiana and Ohio, where it is stoked by local 
issues and the Republican governors¹ political difficulties.

Representative Chris Chocola, easily re-elected two years ago from the district 
centered in South Bend, Ind., is battling a Democrat, Joe Donnelly, in a race so
tight that several people offered Mr. Chocola their sympathies on the campaign 
trail this week. ³You doing O.K.?² a bank executive asked at a groundbreaking 
for a small manufacturing company. Mr. Chocola replied, ³It¹s an exercise in 

Mr. Chocola began advertising in March, rather than in May as he has in his 
three previous races. The attacks and counterattacks have been swift and nasty. 
In one recent round, the Chocola campaign charged that Mr. Donnelly, who owns a 
printing and rubber stamp company, had paid his property taxes late 15 times. 
³Joe Donnelly wants to raise our taxes,² the ad warned. ³Even worse, he¹s 
delinquent paying his own.²

Mr. Donnelly¹s advertisement pointed out that the company Mr. Chocola once ran, 
which manufactures products for the agricultural industry, had itself missed a 
tax payment of $67 one year. ³But hypocrisy is normal in Washington,² the ad 
said, concluding, ³It¹s time for a new congressman.²

Outside groups are advertising heavily there, as well: trial lawyers and 
MoveOn.org against Mr. Chocola, the Chamber of Commerce in his favor.

Even in such a climate, Republicans retain some formidable institutional 
advantages to help them hold on, Mr. Cole and others say. After 12 years in 
control of the House, Republicans have done much to fortify their incumbents, 
including having district lines so carefully drawn that even in a tumultuous 
year only about 40 House races are seriously competitive, compared with roughly 
100 considered in play in 1994.

Moreover, Republicans are counting on their vaunted get-out-the-vote campaign, 
which proved so effective in 2002 and 2004, to overcome what many concede is a 
less than enthusiastic conservative base. The Republicans are also expected to 
have a financial edge this fall, although the Democrats have worked hard to 
narrow it.

The strategic imperative facing the Republicans, many analysts say, is clear: 
transform each competitive race from a national referendum on Mr. Bush and 
one-party Republican rule into a choice between two individuals ‹ and define the
Democratic challengers as unacceptable.

³Democrats are trying to indict an entire class of people, who happen to be 
called Republican candidates for Congress,² said Glen Bolger, a Republican 
pollster handling dozens of House races. ³We have to bring individual 
indictments with different cases and different pieces of evidence.²

Mr. Bolger added, ³If you like positive campaigns, you¹re going to be let down.²

The question, analysts say, is whether the Republicans¹ race-by-race strategy 
can overcome what is shaping up, so far, as a classic midterm election driven by
national issues. ³I don¹t really care what the national climate is,² said 
Representative Tom Reynolds of New York, chairman of the National Republican 
Congressional Committee. ³At the end of the day, House races are a choice 
between two people.²

Democrats will be pushing hard to remind voters of the big picture, and their 
frustrations with it. In southeastern Indiana, Baron Hill, a Democrat who is 
trying to reclaim the Congressional seat he lost two years ago to Representative
Mike Sodrel, held an event at a gas station where he pumped fuel at a 2004 
price, $1.80, rather than $2.79.

³People are angry,² Mr. Hill said. ³They want to know why we¹re paying $3 a 
gallon and Congress is giving tax breaks to oil companies.²

Another major variable is whether Republicans are able, as they were in 2002 and
2004, to make the national security issue work in their favor. Democratic 
strategists say they are determined ‹ this time ‹ to answer every suggestion 
that their party and their candidates are less committed to the national 

³The key on national security: every time they hit us, answer them back strongly
and hard,² said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the 
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. ³People are not happy with how George 
Bush conducted the war in Iraq, and they know we¹re not safer.²

Over the next four weeks of Congress, beginning on Tuesday, both parties will 
try to frame the security debate.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority whip, made his 
party¹s case on the CBS program ³Face the Nation² on Sunday. ³We¹ve liberated 
Afghanistan and Iraq, and by staying on offense we¹ve protected America here at 
home,² Mr. McConnell said, acknowledging that the struggle was ³a tough slog.² 
But in terms of the ultimate goal of protecting the home front, he said, ³that 
policy has been a 100 percent success.²

In the end, Democrats are acutely aware of how close they have come since 1994 
to regaining power on Capitol Hill, and how often a majority (218 votes) slipped
from their grasp, notably in 2000, when the Republicans held on with just 221 
seats. Representative Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, a veteran Republican 
strategist, said Democrats simply had trouble ³closing the deal.²

Mr. Emanuel, discussing the widespread predictions that his party would win the 
House if the election were held today, said simply: ³It isn¹t today. That¹s the 
unfortunate part.²

Robin Toner reported from Washington for this article, and Kate Zernike from 

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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