Republicans may be heading toward complete control of Washington—maintaining the House, taking the Senate, and likely capturing the White House—if Election Day 2012 unfolds as Charlie Cook, acclaimed vote counter, predicts.
Sure that the former Gov. Mitt Romney will clinch the GOP nomination, Cook says President Obama faces an uphill battle to be re-elected, and the election will be a referendum on his presidency and the dire economic situation he now "owns." [Vote now: Will Obama be a one-term president?]
Even if Obama did manage to hold on to the presidency, he will face a Republican-controlled legislature that will likely shut down his agenda entirely.
Cook sees House Republicans losing some of their majority, perhaps five to 10 of the seats he calls "exotic and problematic" that rode the wave in 2010 midterm elections. But he believes that Democrats stand no chance of winning enough seats to gain control.
For similar reasons in the Senate, he sees Democrats losing some of the seats that they gained in their own wave in 2006. "Best-case scenario" for the Democrats, says Cook, is that they lose only three of their 23 seats that are up for grabs. More likely however, they will lose at least six of the 10 most at risk, tipping the Republicans into a slight majority. [See photos of 2012 GOP hopefuls on the campaign trail]
As for the Republican nomination, there is no doubt in Cook's mind that it will be Romney. Herman Cain might have passion, Newt Gingrich intellect, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry money, but, "Romney is the only guy with the whole package."
For Cook, "The $64,000 questions is, 'Is it going to be quick and clean or long and messy?'" If Romney gains the support of his party early, he will pick a vice presidential candidate who appeals to the center. If issues like his faith or his Massachusetts healthcare plan continue to disrupt his path for nomination, he may have to do some "awkward ticket balancing" like Sen. John McCain did in his choice of former Gov. Sarah Palin for vice president, explains Cook.
Either way, Cook says, Obama, quoting the president himself, "faces an uphill battle." Cook adds that the only chance he has is to borrow moves from former President Bush's 2004 playbook and "marginalize" Romney just as Bush's team tried to marginalized Sen. John Kerry. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP candidates.]
Cook, who spoke at an event last night hosted by Prism Public Affairs and C. Fox Communications, also says that the Gallup presidential approval poll is the best indicator of president's chances for re-election. "Don't pay attention to the horse race figures," he says.
Most tellingly, he adds, Obama has only 39 percent approval among independents—only 32 percent among the "pure independents" who do not lean left or right—and they will be the ones who decide the election.