Tortoise and the hare

A Gallup poll released early this week showed Democrats ahead of Republicans in a generic ballot 49 percent to 43, but with the GOP still ahead among independents. A day or so later, we hear that Quinnipiac calls it for Republicans over Democrats with that same generic ballot, 43 percent to 38, with the GOP leading among independents.

So what does it mean? Haven’t the pundits (including White House press secretary Robert Gibbs) been all but assuring us the GOP will carry the House, and possibly the Senate as well?

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While things are looking rosy for Republicans at this particular snapshot in time, it is still only July, and too many champagne corks are prematurely queued for popping. 

Republicans need to be mindful of that old Aesop fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” lest they allow overconfidence to wrest defeat from the jaws of victory. The hare boasted of his speed, but as we all know, his overconfidence impeded his victory, and the tortoise unexpectedly won. At the end of the fable is the warning the GOP should heed between now and November: “Don’t brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!” 

The 1994 midterm elections that gave Republicans control of both houses of Congress were arguably the most important midterms in several generations. In truth, Republicans didn’t really expect to gain the House, but were cautiously optimistic about coming very, very close. Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.) (my old boss) was retiring, and Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was set to be an aggressive, energetic minority leader, nipping at the heels of the Democrats until he could take the gavel himself within another election cycle or two. That was pretty much the plan as most of us understood it.

In the days before the election, a smattering of bumper stickers appeared sporting the phrase “Speaker Gingrich. Get Used To It.” Democrats laughed (albeit a bit nervously) and Republicans feared the skies would open up and punish us for being too cocky. We knew we had to work our knuckles to the bone right up to the closing of the very last polling place, and after every last absentee ballot had been counted. We expected — and got — an uphill climb, but were not deterred. 

On election night, as the returns were coming in from all across the country, it started sinking in. We were going to have to print up a whole lot more of those “Speaker Gingrich” bumper stickers, because the GOP had taken the House and the Senate. To say it was an exciting night to be involved in politics (at least if you were a Republican) would be an understatement. Elation. Disbelief. Followed by the dawning realization that due to our hard work, Americans heard the message and made a change that had not occurred in a generation.

The Quinnipiac and Gallop polls showing both the GOP and the Democrats ahead in a generic ballot should be a wake-up call to Republicans thinking this thing is won. It’s not — yet.

Republicans should act like we did in 1994. We know it’s close, we know it’s possible, but it’s still just a dream. And dreams don’t turn into reality without a helluva lot of elbow grease, grit, guts and courage.

Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.