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Political analysis: The GOP, Obama, and November


According to the media, the November elections are as good as over, Democrats are gonna get smacked upside the head by an angry populace, and Republicans will hold a majority in at least one house of Congress. I have doubts — mostly because I've covered politics long enough to know that predictions this far ahead of time are a waste of time.

The media forecasts of a big GOP comeback may very well be true -- after all, the White House's party does traditionally lose seats in midterm elections -- but I don't think the 2010 situation is as cut and dried as the media makes it out to be.

The Dems are losing two senators (so far) -- Dorgan of North Dakota and Dodd of Connecticut -- but neither of them was going to be re-elected anyway, and the probable replacement Dem candidate in Connecticut, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, is very popular.

Health care legislation is on the verge of passing, but since it won't go into effect for another three or four years, that's not likely to affect Dems one way or another in November.

President Obama is seen by many, yours truly included, as too cozy with Wall Street, which angers both the left and the far right; unless he starts tossing some of the finance vultures in jail, that coziness could prove costly. Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich said recently that one issue will kill or save the Dems: jobs.

So far, we've had a jobless recovery, meaning that Wall Street is making a killing -- which skews statistics enough to give the appearance that things are getting better -- but unemployment, the ultimate pocketbook issue, is lingering, if not getting worse. Obama says he wants to concentrate the rest of the year on America's employment woes, but Reich warns that if the jobless rate is still at 10 percent or higher come November, voters will take it out on the Dems.

All of those things would seem to make a GOP comeback a foregone conclusion, but there's one problem with that scenario: the Republican Party itself. It's the only "other" party voters can pick if they're mad at the Dems, but the GOP's public image is as much in the toilet as their opponents'. Plus, the GOP, rather than being poised for victory, is disorganized and riddled with internal fighting, placing its ability to mount a strong congressional campaign in doubt.

Last week, when Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele told FoxNews that he didn't think Republicans could retake the House, the National Congressional Campaign Committee slapped him down, while GOP strategists accused Steele of being "stupid" -- to which Steele replied that his critics in the GOP "need to get a life and shut up." Needless to say, it's not often that two campaign committees from the same party are so much at odds, and it's not a good omen for their performance in November.

Republicans are battling each other with a fury elsewhere, too. In South Carolina, the second county GOP organization in two months censured U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham for working with Democrats on climate change and immigration. In Florida, the GOP's far right threw out party chairman Jim Greer because he supported Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in his race for the U.S. Senate. The GOP is suffering from the same problem they had in 2008. Namely, they can't win without their ultra-conservative base, but that "base" is too far to the right for the American mainstream's comfort.

Even Dick Cheney has become a divisive force within the GOP. His latest attack on Obama, accusing the president of being soft on terrorism, led to embarrassment for many Republicans, including Rep. Ron Paul, who told a reporter that Cheney "caused a lot of trouble for our country ... So I would say it would be best he not be so critical right now." Paul is far from alone in his feelings about Cheney. Writer Peter Baker, in New York Times Magazine, reports that "a half-dozen former senior Bush officials involved in counterterrorism" told him they were comfortable with Obama's policies but wouldn't say so publicly for fear of angering "Cheney's circle."

In addition to intra-party fighting and mainstream America's distrust of the tea partiers, Republicans also have the biggest political problem of all: trouble raising money. The Hill, a respected daily congressional newspaper, reported last week that the RNC has $8.7 million on hand, "its worst election-year cash flow this decade." The Hill quoted one RNC official who said the committee's financial situation "... is very troubling, and the thing is, most people don't understand this. But it is really troubling."

As usual, there are other wild cards that could throw the election either way, things we can't foresee now: another terrorist attack, some horrendous scandal, or revelations of one sort or another. Short of a major wild card surprise, though, I have to agree with Robert Reich: The election will probably turn around jobs. If the Dems want to keep their majorities, the White House better get to work, and quickly.

John Grooms will discuss and sign copies of his book, Deliver Us From Weasels, at Joseph-Beth Booksellers Saturday, Jan. 16, at 1 p.m.

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