There seems to be a growing consensus that the Republicans have a real shot at recapturing the Senate in the next midterm elections, giving them further opportunity, if not total assurance, of making Barack Obama's next years in office meaningless.
The president understands this and has been pulling out all the stops to try to prevent it from happening. His budget proposal doesn't include tax hikes or efforts to control Social Security nor has he eased back in the spending. The fundraising to counter enormous amounts pitched into the battle by billionaires like the Koch brothers is underway full tilt. The whole thing looks a lot like the "last great battle of the West," or should we make that the "South" where Democrats are conducting a Custer-like stand?
Obviously, one of Obama's main hopes is that the radicals in the GOP will once again self-destruct by nominating non-winners in the primaries in key red states where Republicans could be expected to win. After all that is what occurred two years ago when a simple policy of putting political common sense ahead of ideological purity would have done the Senate trick. But the party failed in several winnable states by nominating candidates clearly out of the mainstream.
Even though it is pretty early in the process to be making profound predictions about the November balloting, on paper at least Republican candidates should be odds-on favorites. The most competitive races are taking places in states like, Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky, where voters long have been hostile to not only Obama's main initiative, health-care reform, but also his stances on nearly everything else.
Republican candidates need to hold on to what they have and gain six more seats. While it's not an easy chore, it's one they believe is well within reach. Eleven races, if not several more, are reportedly competitive. According to national reports, weak candidates could emerge from primaries in Alaska, Georgia, Iowa or North Carolina. The Washington Post in its assessment of the situation quoted Sen. John McCain as "guardedly optimistic," although warning that the party must nominate candidates who "can win."
In several states where Democrats are retiring -- West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota -- Republicans seem to have the clear advantage. According to the Post, four states where Democrats are up for re-election may hold the key to Senate control, Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina. All four were lost by Obama two years ago. North Carolina seems to offer the Democrats the best chance of retaining the incumbent, although Sen. Mark Pryor has a habit of pulling out of trouble in Arkansas. Obama lost the state by 24 points.
We could go on with this, but at this juncture any way, Obama has an increasing unpopularity problem and the Republicans discern they can continue to take advantage of that by turning the election into a referendum on his tenure.
If there is a weakness in this strategy, it relies mainly on exploiting problems in the huge Affordable Care Act, including the continuing startup glitches and the general unpopularity of the program. Is this beating a dead horse, as Democrats contend, or does the strategy still carry enough voter uncertainty and animosity to make inroads in their confidence in Democratic candidates, particularly those who supported the act? This is certain: Republican fund managers are expected to pour huge sums into making this election about Obama on nearly every level.
In the last analysis whether or not enough of the president's men survive to control the upper chamber and keep the Congress split between the two parties -- the House is expected to remain Republican -- Obama's final years in office could be considerably less than he would have wished. At stake is movement on a number of serious domestic issues like immigration reform and education.
Clearly little will be done this year until after the election. Republican House Speaker John Boehner has made that clear. The lame-duck years will be nearly as barren while jockeying for a shot at the White House begins in earnest in both parties. Does anyone understand the true meaning of the word "dysfunction"? As one wag said just look at a Washington map and draw a straight line between 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill. That's dysfunction.
(Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers.)