How bleak is the picture for Republicans?

Observers suggest dozens of GOP House seats could be up for grabs this fall, and the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has set some very low expectations for that body.

Published June 10, 2008 3:51PM (EDT)

We already knew that Republicans' efforts to take back control of Congress this year appear, at the moment, to be doomed. And we knew that, in all likelihood, if things continue the way they are now and there are no big scandals on the Democratic side, the great likelihood is that the Democrats will actually pick up even more seats. But two recent bits of analysis have made it clear just how dire the picture is for Republicans right now.

First, there's the pessimistic outlook coming from Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who heads the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. On Monday, Talking Points Memo's Eric Kleefeld wrote about an earlier article from the Savannah Morning News in which Ensign basically says that his goal at the moment is to prevent Democrats from picking up nine seats in the Senate this fall. If Democratic pickups in that body are held to eight seats, they'll remain just short of a filibuster-proof majority. (The analysis is complicated by Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who currently caucuses with the Democrats, but has been leaning ever more Republican recently.) Ensign's probably just setting a low bar -- a Democratic gain of that size would be astounding, especially given regional voting patterns -- but just the fact that he's setting the bar so low right now says something.

On the House side of things, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, who's one of the best out there for this sort of analysis, has a rundown of how many competitive House races analysts expect to see, and which party's favored. He has surveyed operatives from both parties who follow House races closely, and says he has heard estimates ranging from 43 to 70 competitive seats this year. The Cook Report, he notes, lists 77 competitive seats and has 21 Republican-held seats as "toss-up[s]," compared with only six Democratic seats tagged with the same label.

Cillizza also reports that fundraising is a real problem for the National Republican Congressional Committee, and says that senior Republican Party strategists told him they really need help from outside groups to remain competitive.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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