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“The home court advantage on issues that Republicans have enjoyed since 1994 has been lost,” acknowledges Republican strategist Chris Wilson, who is president and CEO of Wilson Research Strategies. “In 2006, Republicans played on a neutral field, but in 2008 we are definitely putting on our away jerseys.”

Nevertheless, his firm’s just-completed National Political Environment Assessment finds that the “divisive nature” of the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates this early in the campaign, particularly New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, “could help to make the general election winnable for a Republican.”

Yes, Mrs. Clinton continues to hold a strong lead among Democrats, he says, and no Republican has consolidated a front-runner position. But that will change.

“Given President Bush‘s unpopularity and the overall environment, the Democrats lead on issues and have the initial advantage in the presidential race,” Mr. Wilson explains. “However, Democrats have done little to capitalize on their victories last fall and their slate of candidates are divisive, which could give Republicans the opening that they desperately need to make a long-term comeback.”

Finally, he said, “the absence of a consensus candidate from either party could give partisans reason to consider a third-party candidate like [New York Mayor] Michael Bloomberg.”

Qatar affair

A few notables we spot on the guest list for the Qatar Airways gala at the Mandarin Oriental next Monday evening: former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen, former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and last but never least, Bill Clinton and George W.Bush impersonator Steve Bridges.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker is in Washington this week celebrating the airline’s entry into the U.S. market. Service to and from Washington was started yesterday, and began in New York last month.

John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes. com.