Other than a handful of lines by Fred Thompson, Republicans have done virtually nothing to attack the Democratic Congress at this week’s convention. That needs to change.
Democrats have now controlled Congress for nearly two years, during which time pretty much every indicator voters claim to care about – unemployment, inflation, the deficit, the price of gasoline and on and on – has gone in the wrong direction. This should set up the GOP for a comeback, or at least to stem their expected losses, right? Wrong.
The fact is, only 53% of Americans know that the Democrats control the House of Representatives, according to a recent Pew poll. These include only 46% of women and 50% of independents. In short, in an era in which approval of Congress is at a record low, fully half of the voters Republicans need to reach don’t know that the Democrats control the House of Representatives (and presumably the same is true about the Senate).
Even after Governor Palin’s great performance at the convention, and after several strong weeks for the McCain campaign, it is still more likely than not that Barack Obama will be the next president. Thus, it is vital that the GOP hold its ground in Congress. Gaining ground (as the party did in 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected) is probably too much to ask at this point, but the effort must be made. Further, even if McCain is elected, he’s going to need as much support in Congress as possible.
Unfortunately, right now the National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee are trailing their Democratic counterparts. At the end of July, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had $56 million on hand, versus just $14 million for its Republican counterpart. On the Senate side, the Democratic Senatorial Committee had $18 million more cash on hand than the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
It is true that the RNC has vastly outraised the DNC this cycle. But that money is going to be focused almost entirely on the Presidential race, where it will do little more than get McCain to rough parity with the Obama fundraising machine. Furthermore, the RNC, the most visible of the three GOP party committees, will be focusing all its PR efforts on the presidential as well.
The McCain campaign would be smart to put more emphasis on Congress, though they probably won’t. It’s not only that he’ll need support if elected. Many voters, particularly independent voters, want divided government in Washington. They don’t want one party to control both the presidency and the Congress. But if they don’t know who controls congress, their votes are in ignorance. McCain can’t get “divided government” voters if those voters think that Republicans control Congress.
There is more to this year’s elections than the presidential race. Record low congressional approval gives the GOP a chance, but only if voters know, at a minimum, that Democrats control congress.