Campaign 2010

Sep 13, 2005

Wild Card Race

DCCC Press

Sep 13, 2005

Wild Card Race

CongressDailyAM, September 13, 2005

By Charlie Cook

One way of looking at the political implications of a major event is to think about when a Major League Baseball batter connects with a big hit. Fans watch the speed and trajectory of the ball, trying to guess how deep it will go.

The outcome is fuzzy for that first moment, but after a second or two, one can take a pretty good guess as to what's happening.

We're still not at the point that we can determine exactly how much damage the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina by the Bush administration will hurt the president, and possibly congressional Republicans, but we can tell so far that it's hurting and that it's a pretty deep hit.

In the last week, a Newsweek/Princeton Survey Research poll of 1,009 adults -- taken Thursday and Friday, with a 4-point error margin -- put President Bush's approval rating at 38 percent; an Associated Press/Ipsos poll of 1,002 adults, -- conducted Tuesday through Thursday, with a 3.4-point error margin -- put it at 39 percent; a Pew Research Center/Princeton Survey Research of 1,000 adults -- conducted Tuesday and Wednesday, with a 3.5-point error margin -- put it at 40 percent; Time's survey of 1,000 adults -- taken Wednesday and Thursday, with a 3-point error margin, put it at 40 percent, and CBS News' poll of 725 adults -- taken Wednesday and Thursday, with a 4-point error margin -- showed an approval rating of 40 percent. Whew.

It's impossible to know for sure, but given the intense level of partisanship today, I'm skeptical the president can drop much further.

Even before the most recent plunge, Bush was averaging a 15 percent approval rating among Democrats.

His approval rating among Republicans had dropped from the mid-90s to the mid-80s, and I really doubt that it will drop much below 80 percent among his own party.

Among independents, where he was averaging a pre-plunge 40 percent approval rating, roughly half lean toward one party or the other, and those who lean Republican are fairly unlikely to abandon him.

So Bush is pretty close to rock bottom, failing widespread defections among Republicans.

President Clinton's lowest approval rating in a Gallup poll was 37 percent, and the country is a lot more polarized today, meaning fewer partisans are likely to abandon their own president.

Meanwhile, Congress' job approval ratings are ugly -- 32 percent in the AP/Ipsos poll and 28 percent in a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll of 900 registered voters, taken Aug. 30-31, with a 3-point error margin.

In the only generic congressional ballot test released this month, Democrats led Republicans by 12 percentage points in the Newsweek Poll, 50-38 percent.

Pre-Katrina polls indicated considerably smaller Democratic leads -- 3 points in the Fox poll and 5 points in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.

As much as Katrina is dominating the public's attention, the midterm election is still a bit less than 14 months away and the presidential election is just under 38 months away. There will be hundreds of events that will affect the president between now and then.

The business of politics is dynamic, not static, and it's a mistake to view it in linear terms. The farther out the predictive time frame, the less reliable any forecast can be.

Immediately, in terms of policy, what we can say is that the agenda Bush and Republican leaders had in mind for this fall has been thrown out, as have federal budget spending and deficit numbers.

This fall was to be one of the last times the president would have control over the agenda. Midterm election politics will begin in earnest early next year, and lame-duck status really kicks in after midterm balloting.

But carefully laid plans to take one last try at Social Security overhaul, repeal the estate tax, push other tax cuts and change the tax code all have been scrambled and will get cursory, if any, treatment.

For many Americans, Hurricane Katrina exposed a level of poverty many had not seen in the United States. That makes a tax-cut agenda considerably more difficult to pursue.

On the campaign side, we are now at the tail end of the Senate recruiting and retirement season and right in the middle of the time for House recruitment and retirement decisions.

While the election is more than a year away, it's important to watch the next month or two to see what impact this will have on recruiting and retirements.

Will we see a shot-in-the-arm in terms of Democratic recruiting and old-timers opting to stick around for at least one more Congress?

Will Republican recruiting weaken, or will some veteran Republican lawmakers who had been uncertain decide to throw in the towel?

This is very important, because for Democrats to have any realistic shot at taking the House, they have to find some talented challengers in perhaps two dozen districts with potentially vulnerable, in some cases, highly vulnerable, Republican incumbents.

In the Senate, if Democrats don't come up with a strong challenger against Republican Sen. Mike DeWine in Ohio, where the Republican Party has suddenly become radioactive thanks in large part to the foibles of GOP Gov. Bob Taft, they don't deserve to be in the majority anytime soon.