Republicans vs. Democrats or Republicans vs. the news?

With 10 more U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, the GOP is struggling to outrun the drumbeats.

Published October 18, 2006 2:07PM (EDT)

Ten more U.S. soldiers have just been killed in Iraq, bringing October's U.S. death toll to 68. That's almost as many as were killed in September or August, more than were killed in July or June or May, and we've still got -- they've still got -- 13 days of the month to go.

It reminds us of something we read in the Wall Street Journal this morning: "In some ways," Colby College finance expert Anthony Corrado tells the paper, "the major Republican opponent hasn't been the Democratic challenger as much as it's been the daily news cycle."

That's not true everywhere, of course. In some contests -- and we're thinking here of the Virginia Senate race, but there are others -- the "major Republican opponent" has been the Republican candidate himself. But there's no getting around the fact that the daily news cycles have made it virtually impossible for the GOP to get its message out and to keep pushing it with the sort of mind-numbing repetition that has worked so well before. John Kerry flip-flops. John Kerry flip-flops. John Kerry flip-flops. Have you heard that John Kerry flip-flops?

It's always harder to pull that off in a decentralized midterm election, and the news has repeatedly made it impossible this time around. The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz lays it out this morning in rapid-fire succession. You know all the pieces, but it's striking -- and for the Republicans among us, sobering -- to read them all in one place:

"Start with a war in Iraq that has gone seriously south. Cut to a devastating hurricane and the government's botched response. Then you have the Hammer getting hammered, as Tom DeLay gets indicted, gives up his majority leader post and then resigns. The Abramoff scandal blows up ... and, ultimately, Ohio Congressman Bob Ney ... California Congressman Duke Cunningham quits after accepting more than $2 million in bribes, including a yacht ... Mark Foley -- who heads the Exploited Children's Caucus, a detail that no B-movie producer would buy -- is exposed as a gay hypocrite who cyber-stalks former teenage pages. And Denny Hastert and his top lieutenants offer conflicting accounts of what they knew and when they knew it. As the Foley saga starts to fade, the FBI conducts raids in a probe of whether Pennsylvania congressman Curt Weldon tried to help clients of a lobbying firm run by his daughter and an ex-aide. Sprinkle in the Woodward book, the Ricks book, the Isikoff-Corn book, and now a book by former White House faith-based guy David Kuo who says his ex-colleagues privately referred to evangelicals as 'nuts.' Not to mention North Korea setting off a nuclear bomb."

We like that part: "Not to mention North Korea setting off a nuclear bomb."

What does it all mean? The Journal does the numbers: Around the country, embattled Republican incumbents have less money than they expected available to spend now because they've had to spend so much already to counter "an unfavorable national climate for the party." Worse still: It doesn't seem to be working. The number of competitive races is growing, not shrinking. The Democrats' second-tier races are becoming first-tier races, third-tier races are becoming second-tier races and new "emerging" races seem to be coming up on the radar constantly now. The GOP is pulling out of its efforts in Ohio and Texas and suddenly spending money in places like Idaho, where nobody would have predicted anything but a Republican cakewalk just a few months ago.

As for the Democrats? The Hotline reports that the Democratic National Committee has opened a line of credit so that it can pump an additional $5 million or so into Senate races -- mostly in New Jersey, where the Democrats need to hold on to Bob Menendez's seat, and in Virginia, where they hope to take George Allen's. That won't help Democrats win the House -- not yet, at least -- but Josh Marshall has a modest proposal there, too: Maybe it's time for some of the well-funded Democrats with an eye on 2008 to get a little more generous with the candidates running in 2006.

By Tim Grieve

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

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