Tea Leave Time
The Wall Street Journal is reading the tea leaves and they look good:
As a bad year for Republicans keeps getting worse, expectations are growing that Democrats could capture at least one house of Congress, ending one-party dominance of the nation's capital and crippling President Bush for his final years.
A key factor is the president's approval ratings, which are even lower in states featuring key battles than they are nationally. A recent poll had him at 23% in New York, home to as many as six endangered Republicans.
Recent polls and primaries, however, suggest voters are gunning for the party in power. If the elections were held today, "Democrats would take at least one of the houses," says analyst Bernadette Budde, senior vice president of the Business Industry Political Action Committee, which typically favors Republicans.
Democrats have one big advantage: few vulnerable seats of their own. The anti-Bush climate has a lot to do with that. Also, Democrats have few seats in the conservative South, reflecting the Republican realignment since the civil-rights era.
Stuart Rothenberg, an independent analyst once skeptical of Democrats' chances, now says: "Although I can't count the seats right now to get Democrats to 218, my gut tells me that by November they'll be there."
With a big wave of support, Democrats could plausibly reach a majority without leaving the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, home to about a third of the 40 to 50 hottest races.
Mr. Bush's approval rating is in the low 30s nationally. In these states it is generally lower. Half of the 18 House districts with Republican representatives that picked Al Gore or John Kerry for president are located here. The Iraq war is especially unpopular as are Mr. Bush's environmental policies. Many voters, including moderate, suburban Republicans, also dislike the party's emphasis on cultural issues such as gay marriage, as well as its fiscal record.
Even the head of Republicans' House campaign committee, Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, now is on some handicappers' watch lists. Republican turnout in New York could be particularly low because the party doesn't have strong candidates to excite voters running against Democrats Sen. Hillary Clinton and gubernatorial aspirant Eliot Spitzer.