- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Suddenly the congressional Republicans, left for roadkill only a month ago, have to worry about peaking too soon.

Forty days out, the tried-and-true, old reliable Republican strategy — “vote Republican, we’re not as bad as you think” — might actually be working.

Gallup finds the Democratic lead among voters most likely to vote in the congressional elections, which had held steady for more than a year, has evaporated. The pollster says the two parties are in a dead heat at 48 percent each. The Grumpy Old Party, to everyone’s surprise, has what George Bush the Elder called “the big mo’.”

If it holds until Nov. 7, a Gallup spokesman says, “it suggests Republicans would be able to maintain their majority-party status in the House.” The Democrats need 15 seats to take control, and that’s a lot. It’s not just the congressional Republicans. George W.’s numbers are up, too, reaching 44 percent and maybe climbing.

But the Republican optimists “must caveat that,” as one old Reagan hand might say, because there’s most of September and all of October still ahead, with plenty of time for enough to go wrong. It is true, though, that things are just as likely to break against the party of Pelosi.

Politics is always a game of yin and yang, up and down, this way and that, action and reaction. Sentiment is never permanent; nothing recedes like success. The president has lately begun to explain and defend his stewardship of the war against the terrorists — i.e., the Islamic fascists — and that helps all Republicans. A majority of Americans still think the president could do a better job of prosecuting the fight against the fascists, but only one in four American voters think the Democrats have a clue about how to do it better. The party of Jefferson, Jackson and Harry Truman has become the party of McGovern, Dukakis and Kerry, and isn’t even sure there is an enemy. But if there is, the enemy is an army of the radical religious nuts — not jihadists, but Baptist and Pentecostal evangelicals. That’s a hard sell in the red states key to winning elections.

The clear-eyed Democrats understand this. Bill Clinton carefully and with calculation lost his temper when Chris Wallace of Fox News pressed him about why he didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance. Ol’ Bubba lowered the argument and raised the temperature, wagging his finger in the interlocutor’s face (ol’ Bubba just can’t resist wagging his appendages) and turned purple, risking splutter, and lapsing into the schoolyard frenzy sure to fire up the Democratic crazies on whom the party’s prospects depend. What looked like a slam-dunk is beginning to look like a double dribble.

“Nobody believes those numbers,” Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, tells The Washington Times. “I don’t think anybody in the country believes the generic party preference is even right now.” Well, Gallup does, and so do other pollsters, but what do you expect the man to say?

Maybe it’s the president’s dumb luck, as some of the frustrated Democratic grumblers insist, or maybe he really is as powerful as some of his critics insist. More than 40 percent of the thousand adults Gallup polled for USA Today say they think George W. “deliberately manipulated the price of gasoline so that it would decrease before this fall’s election.” The New York Times soberly cites other reasons, including the cease-fire in the Israeli-Hezbollah fighting and the collapse, so far, of the hurricane season, so confidently assumed in the summer to be a severe one. George W. never said he could hold back the storm, but the price of gasoline dropped below $1.50 a gallon yesterday in the Midwest, so maybe that 40 percent is on to something. “It ain’t braggin’,” Dizzy Dean said, “if you can do it.”

Some Republicans who would be as disappointed as Democrats have been saying the unspeakable — and the unspeakably goofy. They argue that Nancy Pelosi would be so liberal that voters would run not walk to the polls two years hence to vote for a Republican, any Republican. “The best remedy for a party gone astray,” several of them argue in the Washington Monthly, “is to give it a session in the time-out chair.” The last “time out” lasted nearly half a century.

Pruden on Politics runs Tuesdays and Fridays.

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