The midterm elections: The GOP's Iraq, or Florida revisited?

Bush is said to be "almost inexplicably upbeat" about the Republicans' prospects in November. What does he know that we don't?

Published October 16, 2006 1:17PM (EDT)

When the Washington Post reported over the weekend that George W. Bush and Karl Rove are "almost inexplicably upbeat" about the Republicans' prospects in next month's midterm elections, a lot of folks saw a connection to the damn-the-facts optimism the White House usually ladles out for the war in Iraq.

It's not an unreasonable analogy. By all credible accounts, the war in Iraq and the Republicans' campaign for November both seem to be headed south fast.

Eight more U.S. soldiers and dozens of Iraqis were killed over the weekend, and Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel and John Warner both took to the Sunday news shows to declare that it's time for some kind of change in strategy. "The American people are not going to continue to support, sustain a policy that puts American troops in the middle of a civil war," Hagel told CNN. Noting the "exponential increase in the killings and the savagery that's going on over there," Warner told CBS: "You can see some movement forward, but a lot of movement back."

As for the election? The New York Times reports this morning that the GOP has moved almost entirely into a defensive game plan. The Republicans are "circling their wagons around a smaller group of races," Adam Nagourney writes, "effectively conceding some Senate and House seats with the goal of retaining at least a thin margin of control when the 110th Congress is seated next January." Nagourney says the party is already prepared to see Lincoln Chafee, Rick Santorum and Conrad Burns lose their Senate seats. Now it's giving up hope on Mike DeWine, too. Two more, and the Democrats take control of the Senate. Hello, Virginia, a shout out to you, Missouri, and good morning, Tennessee.

In the House, Bob Novak says that a "Republican campaign operative with a reputation for accuracy" tells him that Rep. Tom Reynolds, the Foley-scarred chairman of the Republican National Congressional Committee, has no chance of holding onto his seat. Overall, political analyst Charlie Cook says he thinks Democrats are more likely to pick up 30 seats rather than the 15 they need to take control in November. Cook calls 2006 "without question the worst political situation for the GOP since the Watergate disaster of 1974," and he says there's a "strong" chance the Republicans could lose even more than 30 seats "unless something occurs that fundamentally changes the dynamic of this election."

Which gets us back to what we thought about when we read that Bush and Rove are "almost inexplicably upbeat" about November. It wasn't Iraq. It was Florida -- particularly, that moment in "Fahrenheit 9/11" where George W. and Jeb Bush are sitting together on a bus, and a creepily confident W proclaims: "We are gonna win Florida. Mark my words. You can write it down."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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