- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

So, we arrive at the nub of it: the voters. All the rest of it has been guesswork.The conventional wisdom among the punditry is that Democrats are motivated and Republicans are not. The former is surely accurate. Having dominated U.S. politics for more than 30 years after Inaugural Day 1933, Democrats saw their hegemony (and what they probably felt was their patrimony) slip away to Republican domination of presidential and congressional politics. Federal judicial appointments have gone mostly to conservatives, as has the vast bureaucratic patronage that goes with power. Conservative national policies have upset, enraged and frustrated those in the liberal party. In a word, Democrats are very, very hungry for a return to power.

The second part of the conventional wisdom, however, is so far speculative. It is true that some Republicans, after years of loyalty to President Bush on Iraq and the war on terror, are feeling ambivalent about the lack of apparent success in the Middle East and the continuous news of casualties, problems, scandals and stalemate from the war front. The administration has produced record deficits and spending.

Democrats began to say out loud that Republicans were becoming demoralized. The Foley scandal in Florida produced a suggestion in the media that the Republican base, which includes evangelicals and social conservatives, would stay home in 2006 in sufficient numbers to give Democratic candidates in close races the necessary edge to produce a landslide.

But the evidence, as of this writing, is that this scenario may not quite come true. Republicans and conservatives would, in effect, be throwing away the power to make appropriations, confirm judges and control the national agenda. The Republican view of the war on terror would be paralyzed by a conflicting view that would press for quick withdrawal from the Middle East. Incessant congressional investigative committees would rehash the past six years. As Newt Gingrich has pointed out, Republicans staying home in 2006 would be the equivalent of political surrender.

Let’s look at some races that will likely inform us about Republican turnout this year. Races to watch, of course, are those GOP seats in which incumbents have been forced to resign or not run because of scandal. As the most egregious examples, they should almost certainly be Democratic pickups, even in districts where there are more Republican voters.

Mark Foley’s name remains on the ballot in Florida 16, and Republican voters will have to vote for him to elect his replacement. But this race, according to recent polls, is close, and the Republican could win. Tom DeLay’s name is on the ballot in the Texas 22nd, by order of the court, and Republicans will have to write in the name of his replacement, no small obstacle. But a new poll shows the Republican write-in candidate tied with the Democrat. Bob Ney of the Ohio 22nd did not resign after his conviction, and his GOP replacement is on the ballot, but the race isn’t over. In fact, the Democrats may well win all of these races, but if they don’t, it would mean that GOP voters in those districts were not demoralized by even these extreme circumstances.

Rep. Katherine Harris is going to lose in Florida because she is a very weak candidate, but the Republican candidate for governor is ahead. Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, who makes one gaffe after another, was written off a few weeks ago, but has come back against a strong Democratic challenger in a region where Democrats are supposed to make dramatic gains in 2006. A strong pro-choice and very liberal Democrat is running against a pro-life conservative, Michele Bachmann, in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District (an open GOP seat and a conservative district). This will be a prime test of prolife turnout.

In Connecticut’s 2nd, 4th and 5th districts, three Republican incumbents were considered very vulnerable this year, and all three races are still very close. But Republicans in the Northeast, usually considered safe Democratic territory, are showing strength this year, according to polls, and may be decisive in re-electing an independent Sen. Joe Lieberman. Watch Connecticut on election night.

In Maryland, an overwhelmingly Democratic state, the black conservative lieutenant governor, Republican Michael Steele, is making a race of it against a longtime liberal congressman. The Michael J. Fox political ad against Republican Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri was supposed to be devastating, but Mr. Talent remains even with his Democratic opponent in recent polls. Virginia Sen. George Allen has gone from one controversy to another, but still leads narrowly in polls. In New Jersey, the incumbent Democratic senator is in trouble against GOP challenger Tom Kean Jr. Meanwhile, retiring Rep. Jim Nussle in Iowa and Mark Green in Wisconsin are in close gubernatorial races in their respective states with current Democratic governors. Against a predicted Democratic tide, the re-election race of Minnesota’s Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, is too close to call.

I have said for some time that most of the undecided voters in the 2006 elections are those who usually vote Republican. The races above, and others, will tell us if the conventional wisdom about Republican demoralization comes true, or whether it was just wishful thinking.

Barry Casselman writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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