August 13, 2008


The country is in a funk. The economy is in the tank. The situation in Iraq is in a rut -- although the "surge" is working and fatalities are decreasing. Politicians incessantly mumble about "change."

Yet, with the election just 11 weeks away, the likeliest scenario is "no change" -- another Republican president (John McCain) and another Democratic Congress, with markedly enhanced Democratic majorities. That means 4 more years of gridlock.

Back in 1948, embattled Democratic President Harry Truman campaigned against the so-called "do-nothing" Republican-controlled 80th Congress, and he won, in an upset.

In 2008 America has a do-nothing federal government. In both the executive and legislative branch, there is a stupor, if not paralysis. Problems are legion, but solutions are scarce. The Democrats control the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House in the 110th Congress (2007-08), and they have had minimal accomplishments. The Republicans control the White House, but George Bush's lame-duck presidency is ineffectual, bordering on the irrelevant.

Economically, the housing market has been imploding for 2 years, causing a collapse of the construction and real estate brokerage industries. Unemployment is now at 5.7 percent, and inflation is surging, expected to be at 5.0 percent this year. Gas prices are still over $4 per gallon, adversely affecting every business sector that relies on ground transportation, including auto manufacturers, airlines, truckers and resorts. Consumer confidence is low, and people aren't spending, affecting the restaurant and entertainment sectors. The June-July tax rebates have had minimal impact.

As for energy production, with more than 60 percent of domestic oil consumption derived from foreign sources, energy self-sufficiency is a dream. Additional offshore or Alaska drilling is being blocked by the Democrats.

As for Iraq, the "surge" has been successful, lessening violence. The key word now is "drawdown" -- how many of the 158,000 troops are to be withdrawn, and when? Benchmarks and timetables are irrelevant. With less bloodshed, there is less public pressure to precipitously withdraw, but the war has cost $416 billion, with more than 4,000 deaths.

To date, during the 2008 campaign, Democrats have gotten traction by arguing that "change" in the White House is needed, ignoring the ineffectual Democratic Congress. "No Bush third term" with McCain is Barack Obama's mantra. Republicans get no traction by criticizing the Democrats' congressional majority, as voters seem to hold Bush, not Congress, accountable for the country's problems.

The operative question, therefore, is how many Senate and House seats will the Republicans lose on Nov. 4? The Democrats hold a 51-49 Senate majority and a 236-199 House majority. Both will grow considerably, and a filibuster-proof 60-plus Democratic Senate majority looks increasingly likely. Of the 35 Senate seats up in 2008, 23 are held by Republicans and 12 are held by Democrats. Twelve of the Republican seats - Colorado, New Mexico, Alaska, Virginia, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Kentucky, Oregon, North Carolina, Maine, Oklahoma and Mississippi - are in play, versus just one Democratic seat, Louisiana. In Illinois, Democrat Dick Durbin is utterly secure. Here's an overview of key Senate races:

New Hampshire: This historically Republican bastion is rapidly following neighbor Vermont into the land of liberalism. Incumbent John Sununu won by 19,751 votes, with 51 percent of the votes cast, in 2002, a good Republican year, beating Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen. But the Northeast has become rabidly anti-Bush, Shaheen is running again, and a Democratic wave is in the making. A sizable Obama win is likely, and Sununu will lose.

New Mexico: Iconic 36-year incumbent Pete Dominici is retiring, and a nasty Republican primary has split the party. Dominici has won six elections. Democratic U.S. Representative Tom Udall, a former state attorney general, has high name identification and no negatives. The Republican candidate, conservative U.S. Representative Steve Pearce, is running in the wrong party in the wrong year. Udall will win.

Virginia: Popular 30-year incumbent Republican John Warner is retiring, and his successor in this Republican-leaning state will be former Democratic governor Mark Warner, who is no relation. Liberal Democrats are on a rampage in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, and the Republican nominee, former governor Jim Gilmore, lacks money and appeal. Warner will win, giving Virginia two Democratic senators. If the Democrats keep the governorship in 2009, this heretofore red state will move into the blue column.

Alaska: An icon in the state and the "Prince of Pork," who has been grabbing federal funds for Alaska for 40 years, Republican incumbent Ted Stevens was recently indicted on federal charges that he falsified his financial disclosures to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts from various constituents. His opponent is Mark Begich, the Democratic mayor of Anchorage. Polls now show Begich ahead. A Democrat has not won an Alaska Senate seat since 1974. If the 84-year-old Stevens loses the Aug. 26 primary, a Republican could keep the seat. Otherwise, Stevens will lose to Begich, the son of a former congressman.

Colorado: Two-term Republican Wayne Allard is retiring, and Republicans are in retreat in the state, having lost a Senate seat in 2004 and the governorship and control of the legislature in 2006. Allard was elected with 51 percent of the vote in 1996, and he was re-elected with 51 percent in 2002. Democratic U.S. Representative Mark Udall, bolstered by his Denver base and his environmentalist record, has a wide lead over former Republican U.S. representative Bob Schaffer. The Republican retired in 2002, honoring a three-term pledge, but he has been tied to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Udall will win comfortably.

Minnesota: Democrats have a propensity for stupidity in Minnesota. In 2002 abrasively liberal Democratic U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone was on his way to a third term, but he died in a place crash. Democrats turned his funeral service into an anti-Bush diatribe, and voters recoiled. Former vice president Walter Mondale, a senator from 1965 to 1977, was Wellstone's replacement on the ballot, but Republican Saint Paul Mayor Norm Coleman beat him by 49,451 votes, with 50.2 percent of the votes cast. Coleman's inept 2008 Democratic foe is comedian Al Franken, who is well on his way to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Al Gore won the state by 58,607 votes in 2000, and John Kerry won it by 98,319 votes in 2004. Unless Obama wins the state by 200,000-plus votes, Coleman will win narrowly -- and he'll be a credible presidential contender in 2012.

Mississippi: If a Republican loses in this party bastion, then 2008 will be a debacle. Longtime incumbent (1989 to 2006) Trent Lott retired to be a lobbyist, and Roger Wicker, a congressman from Tupelo in northern Mississippi, was named his replacement. He has raised more than $3 million in campaign funds to date. Yet the better known Democratic candidate, former governor Ronnie Musgrove, has a chance. The state's population is 37 percent black, and Obama will get a huge racial vote. If black voters go nearly unanimously for Musgrove, Wicker will need 80 percent of the white vote to win. Wicker is in trouble.

Oregon: The state's black population is just 1.6 percent, but liberal Oregon looms as an Obama state, perhaps with as much as 60 percent of the vote. If Obama racks up such a margin, then incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith is a goner. Kerry won the state with 51 percent of the vote in 2004. Gordon was elected in 1996 with 51 percent of the vote and re-elected in 2002 with 56 percent. Gordon's 2008 foe is Democratic state House Speaker Jeff Merkley. Give Gordon a slight edge.

Maine: In a state full of contrarians and contrariness, Maine has a Democratic governor and state legislature, two Republican U.S. senators and two Democratic U.S. representatives. But this much is certain: Maine voters don't like Bush or the Iraq War. That puts Republican incumbent Susan Collins between a rock and a hard place. She's neither a Bush backer nor a critic, but she is a Republican. Her Democratic foe, U.S. Representative Tom Allen, is clinging tightly to Obama. Collins won with 49 percent of the vote in 1996 and with 58 percent in 2002. Kerry won with 58 percent in 2004. Collins could lose.

Kentucky: Republicans beat Democratic Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota in 2004, and Democrats are targeting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2008, who has more than $3 million in campaign funds. McConnell, who was first elected in 1984, won with 55 percent of the vote in 1996 and with 65 percent in 2002, but 2008 Democratic nominee Bruce Lunsford, a wealthy self-funding businessman, will spend what it takes. McConnell has the edge.

Louisiana ranks as the lone Republican opportunity. Incumbent Mary Landrieu won with just more than 50 percent of the vote in 1996 and with 52 percent in 2002, in a state with a black population of 33 percent, much of which was diffused by Hurricane Katrina. The Republican candidate, state Treasurer John Kennedy, is tying himself closely to McCain, which is a smart strategy. Landrieu will have to make an endorsement in the presidential race. If she equivocates, she alienates black voters; if she endorses Obama, she alienates white voters. That's a lose-lose situation. Kennedy will win.

In the 111th Congress, Democrats will have a 58-42 Senate majority.