Monday, October 23, 2006

The Siege

Republicans are battling to keep control of Congress. But polls and analysts in both parties increasingly suggest Democrats will capture the House and possibly the Senate on Election Day Nov. 7. Democrats need a 15-seat pickup to regain the House and a gain of six seats to claim the Senate. Everything could change overnight for President Bush, who has governed for most of the past six years with a Republican Congress and with little support from Democrats. Democratic victories essentially could block his remaining agenda and usher in a period of intense partisan bickering over nearly every measure to come before Congress. This means that a loss of either chamber also could subject the Bush Administration to endless congressional inquiries and investigations.

Some of President Bush's fighting in the trenches is likely to be with fellow Republicans as they seek to find a new standard bearer for 2008, and distance themselves from an unpopular war, the unpopular president who waged it, and congressional scandals that include inappropriate e-mails to House pages from ex-Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla. Already, Republicans are showing divisions on Iraq policy. Fresh skepticism has come from Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner of Virginia, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a longtime Bush family loyalist.

What is certain however, if Republicans lose their majorities, it will be that much harder for Bush to hold together already splintering GOP cohesion on Iraq. While the Senate has been difficult for Bush, even with GOP control, the House for most of his presidency has delivered for him. That might change now. The White House traditionally loses seats in midterm congressional races. The most recent exception was 2002, when the Republicans picked up seats. President Bush has barely over two years left. The loss of either house in voting next month could hasten his descent into a lame-duck presidency.

Many Democrats see the upcoming elections as a mirror image of 1994, with the parties reversed. Polls in 2006 show a more dramatic tilt toward the Democrats than polling in 1994 showed a tilt toward Republicans. But redistricting has made far fewer congressional districts competitive. A Democratic takeover of one or more chambers would all but guarantee that Bush would not get his Social Security overhaul or further tax cuts through Congress.

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