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The NRCC’s bleak November picture

Looking back at my columns over the past couple months, I realized that I’ve focused on the National Republican Congressional Committee and its manifest failures more than any other topic. But while I’d like to stop writing about the NRCC, and focus instead on some of the emerging Democratic leaders, the GOP just won’t quit feeding me material.

In the wake of the House Democrats’ 30-seat pickup in 2006, bigfoot pundits spilled a lot of ink pondering how many of those seats the new majority would cede in 2008. Indeed, after the GOP’s momentous 54-seat pickup in 1994, in which the party picked up fluke seats like Dan Rostenkowski’s Chicago stronghold, Democrats rebounded with an eight-seat gain in 1996.

Given Democratic pickups in strongly Republican districts, it seemed inevitable that Democrats would have to fight hard merely to hold their dramatic 2006 gains.

But a funny thing happened over the past two years. The disintegration of congressional Republicans has continued unabated, and consequently, Democrats appear poised for a second cycle of massive gains — something Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey never enjoyed.

The loss of the House majority in 2006 was a brutal blow to Republican fundraising. At the end of January 2008, the NRCC had just $4.1 million on hand after debts. The committee proceeded to blow about a quarter of that paltry sum — over $1 million — in a futile effort to retain Denny Hastert’s theoretically safe suburban Chicago district.

Adding injury to grievous insult, the committee has been rocked by an exploding embezzlement scandal that apparently cost it around $1 million. As of last week, the NRCC had spent an additional $400,000 just trying to locate the missing funds, with scores of unpaid legal and accounting bills to come. For a party that claims superior stewardship of taxpayer dollars, the inability to manage its own finances isn’t just an embarrassment. It’s proven to be a fundraising disaster.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reported just under $34 million on hand after debts for the same time period.

Without their traditional massive cash advantages to blunt the impact, Republicans now must face the voters on their merits — and the electorate isn’t buying. Democrats continue to notch double-digit advantages in most generic congressional ballot match-ups, while the “enthusiasm gap” between Democratic and Republican partisans is in full display this primary season. In contest after contest, Democrats turned out in numbers far exceeding their Republican counterparts, sometimes even doubling the GOP totals.

Meanwhile, the utter failure of standard Republican attack lines in the Ill.-14 special election means that the party’s quivers are essentially empty. Charging Democrats with “surrender” on Iraq? Voters want out, no matter what you call it. Scapegoating immigrants? Big flop. Claiming Democrats want to raise taxes? Yawn.

Only 19 percent of Americans are “satisfied … with the way things are going in the United States at this time.” A healthy 80 percent aren’t so delusional — and they’re hungry for a change from the Bush recession and failure in Iraq.

It’s no wonder, then, that Republicans have suffered a record 26 retirements. And it’s not surprising that supposedly endangered freshman Democrats in Republican districts like Ohio’s Zack Space, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and North Carolina’s Heath Shuler all failed to draw credible GOP opponents.

As a result, Republicans have stopped wondering whether they can regain their majority, and are left asking whether their 2009 conference will be big enough to finish a keg of beer. 2008 is starting to look even better for Democrats than the 2006 rout.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .

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