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Today’s Washington Times has a story in which Karl Rove is quoted as telling the paper’s editors and reporters at a private luncheon that Republicans will hold onto their majorities in the House and Senate. This is a dog-bites-man story; it would be news if Rove had said anything else. Still, his reasons are worth recording:
1. Mark Foley is no big deal. Rove: “The Foley matter has impact in some limited districts, but the research we have shows that people are differentiating between a vote for their congressman and a member from Florida.”
2. The Democrats are weak on national security, and President Bush will increasingly make this point as the election draws near. Rove: “I think they have given us here, especially in the last couple of weeks, a potent set of votes to talk about. You had 90 percent of House Democrats voting against the terrorist-surveillance program, nearly three-quarters of Senate Democrats and 80 percent of House Democrats voting against the terrorist-interrogation act. Something is fundamentally flawed.”
3. History is on the Republicans’ side. The story cited Rove as noting that 97.5 percent of incumbents have been re-elected since 1996. This time, he said, there are “significantly” fewer open House seats than the Democrats had in 1994, when Republicans swept to power under then-Rep. Newt Gingrich’s leadership.
4. The Republicans have a big edge in money. GOP candidates have more cash on hand than their opponents do in at least 34 races of 52 key races, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Rove: “Between now and the election, we will spend $100 million in target House and Senate races in the next 21 days.”
5. Republicans are better prepared. The White House compiled a list of 80 Republican incumbents who might face difficulty. Rove: GOP strategists (and we know who that means) made sure “that they all had a campaign plan, that they all knew that they had a risk, that they all went out there and raised a bundle of money, and that they had a plan that was measurable.”
Of these five reasons, 2, 4, and 5 seem most important to me. Mark Foley would be an isolated incident were it not for all the other problems Republicans face. But in conjunction with Iraq, Abramoff, North Korean nukes, and Bush’s declining job approval rate, Foley is another case of mismanagement. The argument about the open seats is interesting–Rove is a great student of history–but Republican incumbents have created big problems for themselves. The other three reasons are all about the nuts and bolts of politics. If the Republicans keep control of Congress, it will be because Karl Rove knows how to win elections.