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Outcome Uncertain as Decision Day Looms

October 26, 2006

Uncertainty is increasing across the board as the November elections approach, with polls showing some races changing leads, and many within the margin of error.

Nationally, the GOP appears to have successfully shaken the short-lived stigma of the Foley scandal; although it received scant coverage from mainstream media outlets, the recent death of former Congressman Gerry Studds – the “original” page scandal Representative, who served six more terms in the House after being censured for having sex with an underage male page – may have contributed to some much-needed perspective being applied to the situation.

Several incumbents are fighting to maintain their seats in the House and the Senate, but there are also Republican challengers who are polling well enough that they may take back some of the potential lost seats on November 7.

Support for Republicans across the board is trending upward, a fact which is evidenced by the most recent polls being released – but which are not being trumpeted nearly as loudly as the earlier, poorer polls had been by the media.

Three weeks out from the election and before, polls which showed that Republicans were trailing in races across the board, and were in danger not only of losing control of both houses of Congress, but of becoming a 30-seat minority in the House, were being proclaimed far and wide by both the Democrats and the media.

What was lost in this, amid the Democrats planning their new office decorations, committee appointments, and leadership positions, was the fact that polls showed this same impending result in each of the previous three election cycles – and, as we all know, Republicans maintained control of Congress (not counting the temporary loss due to the defection of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords) every time.

This time appears to be no different. As decision day nears, Americans appear to be taking a closer look at the prospect of Democrat control, and all that it entails – from the possibility of impeachment hearings, to a quick withdrawal from an unstable Iraq situation, to the lack of a coherent, workable plan for defending America and fighting the war on terror, to the specter of a Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) – and are, once again, coming to the conclusion that such a result is not a good idea.

A striking example of this potential voter turnaround, as well as its resulting lack of reportage, can be found in Missouri, where a highly touted Survey USA poll showed Republican Senator Jim Talent trailing by 9 points two weeks ago. Wednesday, SUSA released a poll showing Talent leading by three – a twelve-point swing in the matter of fourteen days (which is being written off by pollsters as the result of a bad sample the first time around).

In Michigan, Sheriff Mike Bouchard has been able to pull within six points of incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) by focusing on the state’s declining economic and employment situation; in Montana, incumbent Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) has rebounded from early troubles to pull within three points of challenger John Tester (D).

While many races are tightening up, though, some incumbents are on the verge of expulsion from office, while some challengers will fall just short of victory. Senators Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and Lincoln Chaffee (R-RI), for example, will almost certainly lose their respective races (although the replacement of the liberal Chaffee with a Democrat is a functional loss for the GOP on very few issues), and challengers like Michael Steele (Maryland), a black man who has endured the Oreo cookie-throwing wrath of Democrats for having the gall to run as a Republican, appear destined for ultimate defeat in their bids for seats – although a poll released Wednesday showed Steele closing the gap, so there may be hope left in that race.

Although projections and predictions have shown the GOP losing as many as 40 seats in the House and 10 in the Senate, the reality should be much more bearable for Republicans – a functional majority in the Senate, and perhaps, if not likely, a maintained (albeit slimmed) majority in the House.

Two of the GOP’s best hopes for pickups in the House appear to be here in Georgia, where in GA-8 both Mac Collins and Democrat Rep. Jim Marshall are reported to have internal campaign polls which show themselves up by 1. In GA-12, challenger Max Burns appears to be a longer shot in his quest to unseat Democrat Rep. John Barrow, but polls have been reported which show that race within the margin of error, as well.

Also in Georgia, Governor Perdue’s strong lead in the polls continues. Survey USA’s Wednesday poll showed Perdue leading challenger Mark Taylor 51-32, with Libertarian candidate Garrett Hayes polling at a strong 9%. The number of undecideds in this most recent poll is low enough that Taylor appears unable to win the election – however, the longer that Perdue’s numbers continue to hover around or just below 50%, the greater the very real possibility of a runoff becomes; also, the ghost of Roy Barnes’s 11-point election week lead – which became a defeat at the polls – should be weighing heavily on the minds of those who would credit Perdue with a victory before all of the votes have been counted.

The Foley scandal, negative reporting on Iraq, increased government spending, and other negatives which hurt Republicans this fall appear to be fading into the background as America’s voters consider the broader context of the current foreign and domestic situation, including the roaring economy (with the Dow over 12,000), the war on terror, and the prospect of Democrat control of governmet, and the pro-GOP trend which was apparent this year until its brief interruption in the wake of the Foley story, appears to be back on track.

Provided that Republicans stay on message, and build and maintain their position as the party of ideas, solutions, and conservatism (and thus give voters a reason to support them, despite a lack of conservative governance in the past), the Senate – and likely the House – should both still be under GOP control on November 8, and the specter of a Speaker Pelosi will have been narrowly – and fortunately – averted.

The question then will be what the Republican Party – the party of personal responsibility, of unobtrusive and limited government, of self-sufficiency, and of personal and economic freedom – will do with this second chance at a hard-fought majority. Should they once again fail to stick to their stated principles, and decide not to govern conservatively, it is not likely that they will be granted a third opportunity at keeping their word.


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