Welcome To 06!

Happy New Year!

Ah yes, around the world people are taking a few moments to reflect upon the events of the year past while turning a new face to the year ahead full of hope and promise. They are also getting very drunk.

Me, I’ve had enough New Year celebrations to really get worked up this time around. Point of fact, while many people are currently out on the town getting ripped, the wife and I are watching an art show on PBS. We can’t even get into the spirit enough to watch Regis at Time Square. Oh well.

But if I were to say that the new year doesn’t excite me at all, I would be lying. Ah yes, campaign addicts such as myself who have lost the spirit to engage in debauchery at year’s end have another reason to revel this year; midterm elections.

Polls, TV spots, debates, transcripts, whisper campaigns, what sweet bliss. In just a few months, party candidates are going to be in full heated battle with colleagues as they seek the support and nominations from their party, and later in the year, the general elections.

With DC at an apex of partisan rancor, and poll numbers indicating a rough patch for the GOP lead government, this year’s election season has all the makings of a real slobber-knocker, and the year is finally here.

As I gaze into my crystal ball, there are some things that are very clear, and some things that are not. Of course, in a midterm, there are only a few questions that are greatly significant on a national scale. Will their be a change in the majority in either the House or the Senate? And if there is no change in the majority, will there be a change in the margin?

Well, let’s get the easy one out of the way. With the way things are set as of right now you could forget a change in the House, though, the factors that I’ll be discussing here in just a sec can be equally applied to the House in the context of determining it’s shift in majority margin.

The Senate, on the other hand, is very much ripe for a regime change depending on a few major things that, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep a very close eye on. Many leftist and Democrat hopefuls have looked upon the elections of 2005 as prophetic. The spin doctors on our side, in any case, have at least acted as such. I personally don’t feel they were prophetic, but they have shown us what the playing field is beginning to look like, as well as giving us some hints as to what could prove to be a winning strategy. Looking at what has happened in the news, in the polls and in the off year elections, I see two things shaping up to be the single most important things to look at as 2006 begins to get underway.

Fitzgerald, Iraq, and Wiretaps, oh my!

2005 has proven to be a horrendous year for our embattled president. I say embattled because that’s the word one uses when an approval rating in the low forties is seen as an improvement. In fact I imagine that the president who claims to usually be in bed by nine is definitely staying up late to celebrate the end of the year that started off with such promise, and ended up beating the piss out of him.

While Bush no doubt wishes that all of his political woes would draw to an end along with the year of 2005, they aren’t going away, and it is this man’s approval ratings that I’m saying are one of the two most important things to watch in 2006.

After winning reelection in a tough presidential campaign, Bush was still riding the post victory wave at his inaugural speech, but by the time autumn started to sink in, POTUS was posting approval numbers in the mid-thirties. What was probably the worst for this president was the fact that his overall numbers were being killed perhaps for the first time by a deficit in his foreign policy areas in which he almost always polled strong.

Not content to allow his ratings to be sunk by Iraq, the president mounted a last minute campaign on the stump to try and win back some support for the Iraq campaign. Pre-Christmas polls show that the president has enjoyed a slight bump from his small series of speeches, bringing his overall approval ratings back into the low forties from a record low 36-38%.

I’m sure most in the upper ranks of the Democrat Party are wondering why the implosion of the president’s popularity couldn’t have happened a year earlier.

So the man won reelection, and a lot people are of the opinion that his numbers don’t matter. But nothing could be further from the truth. To fully undertand where I’m going with this, you have to realize that much of the success of the GOP over the past few election cycles has been a combination of following the lead of the President, while toeing the Republican line.

The GOP has as of late made an art out of designing a national campaign, and the lynch pin in this design is the popularity of the President. When the President is popular, then his agenda moves forward, and congress members can ride the coat tails. It is an efficient form of campaigning in that strong candidates are made strong by the party title, while weaker candidates can capitalize by encouraging their own anonimity while hiding behind party title. If you spent a little time in Virginia during the 04 elections, you could have seen this first hand in the Thelma Drake campaign. Her entire strategy was (A) rake her opponent through the mud and (B) show as much footage with her standing next to the President looking upon him with a kind of awed reverence.

It worked.

But what we have seen in small doses in 05 is likely to continue if Bush can’t figure a way of bringing his numbers up. When the numbers are up, everyone falls in line. When the numbers are down, people start to worry about job security, and that’s where this comes to play.

The lower Bush’s numbers, the less feasible it is to engage the midterm elections with a national GOP strategy, which makes the party increasingly vulnerable in purple and light red areas, leaves the Republican party open to an attack from a strengthened Democratic party (we’ll talk about that one here in a second), and finally it marginalizes your mediocre candidates.

So the question is can we expect Bush’s numbers to continue to go down? Well Bush did get the bump from his Iraq speech series, but then there is the wire tap story. I think that the initial brunt of the story was absorbed by the Holiday Season, but the muting of the wiretapping story is going to go away when people start going to work on Monday and Tuesday, and I would not be surprised to see Bush’s numbers going back down. That sets us up for the president to begin 06 with horrible numbers but don’t be fooled. Team GOP is going to be well aware of how important Bush’s numbers are, and they are going to pull out all the stops to pull that man’s numbers back up to the high forties and above.

My official prediction for Bush’s numbers are that he’s going to dip early in the year to maybe even lower thirties than we’ve already seen, but he and the rest of the gang are going to figure how to pull out of the doldrums, but not to the extent where he gets any higher than the very low fifties, but more along the lines of high to mid forties. The effect this will have on the GOP will be a slight fracture which will result in an every man for himself attitude amongst congressional Republicans. I also forsee more and more candidates respectfully declining offers from the White House for campaign assistance except in areas that are definitely pro Bush.

The Party Of Ideas?

We’ve talked about the Republicans, and now it’s time to talk about the Democrats. The biggest thing to watch for on the left side of the Hill is actually supposed to be coming up pretty soon. Democratic leadership is slated to, early in the new year, like this month early, make a major agenda announcement. This agenda is supposed to be the rhythm the Dems march to for 2006, and there is no other move the party could make that would have as much a bearing on the midterms.

The reason why this is such an important thing is because we’ve just talked about how the Republican party is going to splinter, hindering it’s ability to capitalize off of each other’s success. The single best way to take advantage of this newfound weakness is to establish your party as teh dominant governance party available. The ultimate goal here, folks, is to make this a party vs. party contest, and one in which only the most exceptional of Republican candidates can overcome the rep vs dem dynamic.

Now, if you ask me, and some people have believe it or not, the biggest mistake Democrats have made in 05 has been the fact that they have spent too much energy as the opposition party. The problem is that with the president and congress both posting very low approval ratings, Americans know that the GOP are screwing it up, they don’t need someone telling them something they already know. They need an alternative, and I sadly haven’t seen that coming from Democrats as of yet.

So I’m very pleased that they are going to at least make a go of it early in the new year. But, just to have an agenda is not going to be nearly enough. There is some serious threading of the needle that needs to occur here. If this agenda turns out to be some reworded rhetoric, forget it, we have a failure on our hands.

What we are looking for is a strong vision. This is an agenda that should not cater to extremes in any ideology, that means leftists too. This has to be a slightly left of center agenda that focuses on good governance and does not allow wedge issues to steal the limelight. So where the trick comes in is in not alienating the liberal base, which will be the driving force in the grassroots, yet at the same time the agenda must be very appealing to Moderate Republican voters; probably the single most vulnerable and valuable voting bloc in the 06 season.

What this also means is that there probably needs to be a compromise between the liberal activist base and the pols who are running for office. This is one thing that the GOP has enjoyed up until now that the Democrats have a harder time catching a break on. Until just recently, the religious right stood behind Bush through thick and thin, and have only recently showed signs of breaking ranks because after five years of not getting any love from their president, I’m sure they’re a little miffed.

So for all you warriors out there, I need you to be okay with the fact that: no universal healthcare, no gay marriage…etc.

Yet.

Anyway. The situation is as such. If the agenda turns out to be a success, then the Democrats finally get to take something that the Republicans have been tossing in our faces for years, and use it to great effect: The party of ideas.

If this agenda turns out to be a failure though, you mitigate the major weakness that is opening up in the Republican party. In essence what you are doing is allowing them to run a local campaign, allowing Republican pols to run as a Bush clone in some areas, and Democrat lite in others as the demographics require.

Official prediction: I just don’t know on this one. I really really wish that Dr. Dean, and Pelosi, and Reid spent the last few months sequestered with a few think tanks designing an absolutely kick ass blueprint for governance with some solid centrist and moderate political sensibilities. I really want to because then I could call the Senate a lock for majority change, but I sincerely think it’s going to come off okay, but a little soft.

And The Winner Is…

Next to resolutions, predictions are pretty huge for the new years, and I’ve just spelled out some of my foundation predictions, but here’s the big one. Will we have a Democrat run Senate by the end of this year?

I like to play it conservative, and withthe number of races the Dems are targeting, and the number they need, along with the factors discussed above, I’m going to put some long odds on them taking the majority, but it’s going to be tight any way you cut it. The margin will be shortened, take that to the bank and cash it. I would not be surprised at a split Senate, but at without the introduction of new factors into the equation, I find it unlikely that the Democrats will take the Senate.

But it’s early, and we’ll see.

Hope you had a great holiday season, and I’ll catch you next time.

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