These days even the most cautious liberals are walking around saying that in 2006 the Democrats might not be able to screw up the mid-term elections. Every day new polls report record lows for the Bush administration, bad news piles upon bad news and Karl Rove has decided that his best and maybe only, strategy is fear.
The New York Times reports that Democrats are so optimistic they are even debating the party's vision and moving away from what former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta calls a "pollster driven niche idea framing." Robin Toner writes that this is a psychological shift for Democrats, a call to "stop being afraid, stop worrying that their core beliefs are out of step with the times, stop ceding so much ground to the conservatives."
But, while the Democrats debate the new word order, there are some Republicans who are just going out and running good campaigns. In every election — even in years where there are tidal waves of change — most incumbents and some challengers prove that a good campaign and some local issues can withstand a tsunami
And again this year, most incumbent Republicans are doing well. Nine of the 15 Republican Senators up for reelection face no or only moderate opposition, including Richard Lugar, Trent Lott, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Orrin Hatch. Even Olympia Snowe and John Ensign in the purple states of Maine and Nevada are in good shape. In House races 181 of the 232 Republican incumbents are rated safe by Congressional Quarterly.
Also, despite the sea of bad news for the GOP there are a few Republican challengers who are giving Democratic incumbents a are run for the money; some are gaining traction because the economic climate in states is so poor and some because they are just good candidates.
In Pennsylvania incumbent Governor Ed Rendell is facing former Pittsburg Steeler and ABC sports broadcaster Lynn Swann. Republicans are touting several African American candidates for statewide office, Michael Steele for Senate in Maryland and Ken Blackwell for Governor of Ohio but Swann has turned into a particularly appealing candidate. Rendell is still favored but Swann is making waves.
In Michigan Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm is in a very close race against retired Alticor (formerly Amway) CEO Dick DeVos. DeVos' wife Betsy has been the GOP Michigan state chair and he is running a very well funded, high profile race. Granholm who is a national Democratic favorite (and would be on all short lists for higher office if she hadn't been born in Canada) is seeking reelection in a very poor economic climate. She has blamed it on the national Republicans but there is dissatisfaction with the fact that she hasn't delivered for the state. The Cook Report's Jennifer Duffy who has moved the race to a toss-up writes that, "Over the last few weeks, some Democratic operatives have whispered complaints that Granholm's campaign has been slow to get started. They also express concern that the Governor and her inner circle don't seem to appreciate that they are locked in a tight race with an opponent with very deep pockets who is defining himself before they can and will have no problem answering every negative ad Democrats put up against him." With his business background and the track record of Amway in grassroots marketing, DeVos is clearly a candidate to watch.
In the Senate, Mike McGavik who is running against Maria Cantwell in Washington State and Rep. Mark Kennedy who is seeking the open seat vacated by Democrat Mark Dayton are running strong races against the tide.
In the House, Republicans are mainly playing a game of defense but the NRCC's Carl Forti says they have 10 challengers who "have an excellent chance of defeating incumbents." He lists Dave McSweeney, the investment banker who is running against Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean in Illinois and State Rep. Chris Wakim running against former House Ethics committee member Alan Mollohan in West Virginia.
So while Democrats are thinking big thoughts they better watch out that the old fashioned nuts and bolts politics don't puncture their big dreams.