Is There an R in the House?

Is there a Republican in the House? After this November’s elections, that question might be more apt than amusing. The party continues to suffer debilitating setbacks, if for no other reason than its poor brand, based on a poor track record. Yes, America still has a political hangover from the decade-long Republican rule, and unless they get some elixir fast, they’ll take it out on the party again this fall.

Last week, President Bush was named by National Journal’s political insiders as Sen. John McCainJohn McCainNBC's Lester Holt emerges from debate bruised and partisan Pundits react: Clinton won first debate Overnight Defense: Debate night is here | Senate sets vote on 9/11 veto override | Kerry, McCain spar over Syria MORE’s (R-Ariz.) largest vulnerability. This week, his candidacy is further bogged down by the congressional races. The Cook Political Report — the political bible of electoral races in this town — “downgraded” 27 solid Republican congressional districts, moving them a stage closer to an uncertain Republican outcome. As if Sen. McCain’s charisma didn’t pose enough of a threat to the campaign, his own party’s congressional nominees are putting yet another crimp in the Arizona senator’s express. In fact, I believe this is the first cycle in as long as I can remember where the candidates down-ticket will actually drag down the prime heavyweight contender.

There’s always the potential that each lost vote on the congressional level translates left on the presidential as well. Not only were 27 districts moved left, but many were in key battleground states like Florida (27 electoral votes) and Ohio (20 electoral votes). Although you never really know what will spoil a Florida election, losing the state could spoil a run for the presidency.

Even if voting Democrat in a congressional race doesn’t mean switching a presidential vote, the shift leftward will have an indirect but significant impact on McCain’s race — fundraising. Congressional contenders will be more agile than ever, trying to grab each donor to win their own election, leaving little cash for their financially deprived presidential candidate.

Like A-Rod’s marriage, Sen. McCain’s campaign is breaking up because of a bad emotional connection — the negative feelings and baggage carried by the right-leaning party. It’s truly unfortunate that issues carry less weight in this election than a party name or a candidate’s fundraising tactics, but these third-party forces are nonetheless distracting voters from the candidates’ agendas. And although the ramifications of the leftward shift in congressional voting are not yet known, it will have an effect come November —directly by party-line voters or indirectly through fundraising. Either way, candidates this year will find that it’s getting hard to be a Republican.


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