Blue skies smiling at me. Nothing but blue skies do I see.
— Irving Berlin
Just over a year ago, Democrats seized control of Congress because of the voters’ exhaustion with the war in Iraq and disgust at the Republican majority’s increasingly brazen manipulation of the levers of power. Now, less than a year from the next election, little has happened to elevate the voters’ mood — or their impression of the party that ruled the federal government from 2003 through 2006.
The GOP remains burdened with a highly unpopular war; President Bush’s troop “surge” in Iraq, initiated over strong Democratic objections, appears to have diminished the violence but has given no sign that it will lead to a big reduction in U.S. troops anytime soon. The corruption scandals, ethical challenges and settled Beltway mentality that helped drive Republicans into the wilderness have yet to dissolve from public memory.
So, even if Democrats have done little to burnish a reputation for running things any better — as reflected in the extraordinarily low public approval ratings for the Congress they now control — the fact remains: They may not have to.
That’s because every traditional indicator of election forecasting — from public opinion polls and issue resonance to candidate recruitment and the “over/under” balance of seats in play — suggests that congressional Democrats have just as much going for them in 2008 as they had in 2006, if not more. They now have the power of incumbency to give them added advantages in raising money, attracting top-tier candidates, controlling the legislative agenda and capturing the political zeitgeist.
All this leads Democrats to profess clear confidence that they’ll retain majority control next fall. And not only that, but they may now harbor realistic visions of emerging with 55 to 58 seats in the Senate (pushing them within arm-twisting distance of the 60 votes needed to bust a filibuster) as well more than 240 seats in the House, a cushion that neither party has enjoyed since the end of the last Democratic era in the House, in 1994.