By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
The political grass can hardly get greener for Republicans. President Obama's approval rating continues its downward spiral; Americans are angry about government spending and debt; fears of job losses and foreclosures continue to dominate the headlines; Democratic congressional leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are overwhelmingly unpopular; and GOP voter intensity is sky high. Picking up the 40 seats needed to take the majority in the House in the upcoming midterm elections should be a breeze. But Republicans aren't so relaxed. Many of them feel this is a do-or-die election year. "We need to do great," says Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. The reason, he adds, is that the politics favoring the Republicans are "not likely to be like this in two years."
That concern is not lost on Rep. Kevin McCarthy, one of the House Republican leaders plotting the GOP comeback and the architect of americaspeakingout.com, an effort to write a new Contract with America. "You take the opportunity when it arises," he says. After all, the GOP could see itself on a downhill path just like the prez. "If I just look a little time ago, the president was at a 70 percent approval rating and he fell very quickly," says the California lawmaker.
Still, he doesn't consider 2010 a majority making, or breaking, year. "Is it do or die? No," he says, suggesting that the party would have another chance in 2012 to win the majority. Why? The issues the public is angry with Obama about today will linger a long time. But he's not downplaying his party's chances this year because he's got some grander scheme up his sleeve, as do some of his colleagues, he promises. Some hope the GOP falls short of taking the majority because it would keep Democrats in charge of the agenda that voters aren't pleased with, and which would make it easier to beat Obama and win majorities in the House and Senate in 2012. "They've told me: 'Kevin, I hope you get to 37 not to 40,' because they think if you get to 40 then you have a hard time getting the presidency." More cynical GOP advisers fear a Republican majority will screw things up, scare off moderate voters, and lock in an Obama re-election.
David Winston, a GOP pollster who worked on the 1994 Contract with America Republican majorities, says the 2010 elections offer a "real opportunity," but so does 2012. The reason: The Bush tax cuts expire starting later this year, and the economy could get socked. "I don't view this year as a one-shot deal."