Only a year ago, the Republican Party had been given up for dead. Top GOP strategists despaired that their party — decimated by two consecutive bloodbath elections — was leaderless, dominated by Southern conservatives and lurching rightward into irrelevance. "The Republican Party seems to be slipping into a position of being more of a regional party," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned his colleagues. "In politics, there's a name for a regional party: It's called a minority party."
As the embittered remains of the GOP caucus locked arms against President Obama and a stimulus plan designed to put Americans back to work, the Party of No seemed no match for Yes We Can. Stuart Rothenberg, one of the Beltway's top handicappers, derided as "lunacy" the boast last April by Rep. Eric Cantor — architect of the Republican strategy of obstruction — that the GOP would soon return to power. "The chance of Republicans winning control of either chamber in the 2010 midterm elections is zero," Rothenberg declared. "Not 'close to zero.' Not 'slight' or 'small.' Zero."
What a difference a year makes: Visions of a generation of Democratic dominance have been eclipsed by a brutal economy and the party's internal gridlock. Despite the $787 billion stimulus, unemployment remains stuck in double digits. Health care reform — Obama's centerpiece legislation — has jumped the rails, and every day spent seeking to get it back on track is a day not focused on the economy, stupid. "Barack Obama spent seven months talking about something other than the most important issue to voters: jobs and wages," says party strategist Simon Rosenberg. "Democrats left the door open for the Republicans."
As a result, the GOP is poised to take back the House in November. There are 59 congressional seats in play, and 53 of them belong to Democrats. "We are seeing 28 to 38 Democratic losses, and it's getting worse," says Charlie Cook, a top political forecaster. "Right now the trajectory is going over 40" — the number of GOP pickups required to flip the House. Even in the Senate, all bets are off following the election of Tea Party darling Scott Brown in Massachusetts and the unexpected retirements of red-state Democrats Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Evan Bayh of Indiana. "Democrats are demoralized, and independents think we're incapable of governing," says Markos Moulitsas, founder of the progressive political forum DailyKos. "We're going to get punished."
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