This is not a comprehensive post detailing the horse race in various states (PoliPundit, for one, always has some good insights on individual races). Instead, it is an early look at the big picture. We all know the conventional wisdom that midterms favor the party out of power, particularly out of the presidency. We also know that George W. Bush is polling extremely poorly. Iraq will not be settled by 2006; Social Security reform is all but dead. Unfairly or not, major media outlets and Democrats have succeeded in labelling the Republican party as 'extremist' and 'theocratic' in the wake of the Terry Schiavo affair.
In other words, it's a pretty gloomy picture. If the election were held today, my predicition would be a loss of at least two Senate seats, and substantially more in the House, though not enough to lose the majority. We've got some time left to make things better, or worse. Though many of my brethren on the right will scream bloody murder to hear it said, the judicial compromise was an important first step in rehabilitating our image. The nuclear option, at this stage, would be premature; it would also be the equivalent of handing our opponents a giant club to beat us about the head with.
Many have criticized this stance as 'weak', 'playing dead', 'a majority governing like a minority'. Perhaps they are right, but I don't think so. My goal is a strong Republican majority - in 2006...2008...2010...2012...and on and on and on. A strategy that focuses on the short-term is no strategy at all. Leave the tactics to the pollsters and the Democrats; let us choose our fights well and save our judicial firepower for the Supreme Court battle that will be coming very soon.
If the Republicans show restraint on Bolton, and the Appeals Court judges, the Democrats will be in a profound jam of their own making when the Supreme Court nomination comes up; they will have lost the PR war, and in modern politics, that's half the battle. If we use our option of last resort this soon, the PR victory will go the Left, and we will be in for a long, bloody Supreme Court fight, and a probable beating at the polls.
A word on the 'Religious Right' in relation to 2006; Republicans need to be cautious in their zeal and remember that a sizable part of the electorate is agnostic or atheist. Voters can sense phoniness in a leader who pretends to embrace religion every time an election comes around, and they LIKE a little religion in their politics. Too much religion, though, scares people away quite quickly. President Bush has done a marvelous job on this issue; saying the right things about Americans having the right to worship, and the right not to worship, as they choose. The Republican leadership has not had the same success, and has given fuel to those who want to flame the rhetorical fires with cries of 'theocracy on the march'.
At this stage, I see two major catalysts shaping the 2006 election. One is the Supreme Court nomination battle, which appears unlikely to wait until after the midterms, given the precarious health of the Chief Justice. The second is the Democratic attacks on Bush's handling of Iraq. The first will turn on public perception of the soundness of the nominee, and we must spare no effort winning that battle. The second, we have little control over; if the Democrats handle it skillfully, they may very well make substantial gains. However, if they go too far, too fast, the public will turn on them, as it always does on a party that defines itself in angry opposition. As 2006 approaches, I'll have occasional looks at some of the hotter horse races, and of course, events that could shape the election. Hope you'll be here with us, it promises to be fun...