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updated 11/7/2006 8:59:05 PM ET 2006-11-08T01:59:05

James Carville said it best. If Democrats can’t beat the GOP this year, they might as well get into another line of work.

The political environment Republicans find themselves in could not be worse.

Iraq is spiraling out of control. Runaway spending has deflated conservatives. And the same Republicans who promised to clean up Washington in 1994 have become the party of Foley, Abramoff and DeLay.

By the end of last week, it looked like body bags, IOU’s and indictments would destroy the Republican majority. Most analysts (including myself) were predicting the GOP would lose as many as 30 seats in the House and six in the Senate—handing control of both chambers to Howard Dean’s Democrats.

But that was before John Kerry tried to tell a joke.

By Sunday, the hemorrhaging had begun.

In Montana, Conrad Burns pulled even with his Democratic challenger. Not bad considering his campaign was considered dead in the water last week.

In Rhode Island, another Republican senator imitated Lazarus, as Lincoln Chafee stormed ahead in a race he was supposed to lose.

In Maryland, Michael Steele pulled within the margin of error of Democrat Ben Cardin. And that was in a state where Democrats have a 2-to-1 advantage.

Virginia and Missouri are too close to call, while Pennsylvania and New Jersey are still breaking Democratic.

And stick a fork in Tennessee. It’s done gone Republican.

As we all know, momentum always shifts in campaigns. Maybe the Republican turnaround is temporary. Maybe it was just a knee-jerk reaction to John Kerry’s joke. But with Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman running campaign operations for the GOP, all their party needs is to stay close in states like Montana. Bush’s campaign team will do the rest.

The day before the 2004 election, most analysts (and just about every reporter I talked to) were predicting a Kerry win. And man, how they started gloating when those exit polls started coming out late in the afternoon. But I predicted a Bush victory in this space and based it on Karl Rove’s get-out-the-vote operation.

This year, Democrats will prove just how far they have come in two years. But it will be Team Rove that racks up wins in states like Tennessee and Montana—states Democrats were supposed to win just a few weeks back.

If Democrats fail to pick up those two seats, Republicans will maintain control of the Senate. And in the age of Foley, Abramoff and Iraq, that outcome would send White House staffers out into the Washington night looking for champagne.

It might, as Mr. Carville suggests, send Democratic leaders looking for a new line of work.

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