While all eyes were on the presidential campaign and the demise of New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer (D) last week, Republicans on Capitol Hill were suffering a run of bad news that could hold dire implications for the campaign season.Things are certainly looking good for the Democrats in November. But keep your fingers crossed. The quickest way to send all of this optimism into the shitter is for the presidential contest to turn uglier, or for Hillary Clinton to connive her way to the party’s nomination, despite popular support for Barack Obama--either of which would discourage Dem voter turnout.
It started with the loss last weekend of the seat held for two decades by former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). It got worse when Republicans lost potentially strong challengers to Democratic senators in South Dakota and New Jersey, and failed to field anyone to oppose the reelection bid of Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).
The latest blow came with the revelation that the former treasurer of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) had allegedly diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars--and possibly as much as $1 million--from the organization’s depleted coffers to his own bank accounts.
If Republicans needed any more evidence of how difficult this fall may be, the past week had it all, analysts said. The Illinois race demonstrated new levels of disaffection, the party’s efforts to go on offense elsewhere were thwarted by recruiting failures, and the NRCC scandal will divert campaign resources and could frighten off badly needed contributors, they said.
“It’s no mystery,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). “You have a very unhappy electorate, which is no surprise, with oil at $108 a barrel, stocks down a few thousand points, a war in Iraq with no end in sight and a president who is still very, very unpopular. He’s just killed the Republican brand.”
Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan analyst of congressional politics, said: “The math is against them. The environment is against them. The money is against them. This is one of those cycles that if you’re a Republican strategist, you just want to go into the bomb shelter.”
READ MORE: “NRCC Says Ex-Treasurer Diverted Up to $1 Million,” by Paul Kane (The Washington Post); “So Long, John--Gas Is at $4 a Gallon,” by Andrew Leonard (Salon).