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updated 9/12/2007 2:40:53 PM ET 2007-09-12T18:40:53
ON THE TRAIL

In the movies, we have come to expect that after a protagonist is pushed to the breaking point (family kidnapped, dog dies, shoelaces come untied at inappropriate moments), the character is usually given a chance at redemption or a break that stops the spiral of bad news. The same goes for politics. At some point, we have to believe that a candidate's luck has to change.

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Given that bad news has been dogging the GOP almost exclusively lately, is it possible to find any signs that things could get better for them?

Well, I don't have tarot cards, but if I had to guess, here are the first places to look for the GOP to catch a break:

Iraq: The recent dust-up about the "Petraeus/Betray Us" MoveOn.org ad is a not-so-subtle reminder about what happens when you don't tend to a restless base. It's also a reflection of the confidence liberals are feeling in their current political position; they didn't shy away from putting Democrats on the spot. Now, instead of spending the week debating the merits of Bush's war policy, Democrats are stuck trying to find ways to distance themselves from charges that they are disrespectful of the military (something they are always worried will come back to haunt them), while also appeasing their most fervent supporters. But don't Democrats have to take some of the blame? They incited these folks with talk of change in the '06 election; shouldn't they expect to be asked to deliver?

Even so, Republicans may be overestimating the appeal of the MoveOn attacks. Attaching Democratic candidates to the liberal group's statements proved successful in the 2004 election, but this is obviously a very different year. In '04, Republicans had a double-digit lead over Democrats on the issue of terrorism. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that advantage has shrunk to zero.

But more importantly, polls show that voters desperately want to see leadership from Washington, not more finger pointing and blame shifting. Even as voters are discouraged by the current administration on Iraq policy, will a lack of consensus and direction from Democrats mean that they default their advantage to the GOP?

Senate/House races: Don't get me wrong; the DSCC would be insane to trade in the prospect of a Bob Kerrey (Neb.), Mark Warner (Va.) or Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) candidacy. All three are the best Democrats could hope to get, and all could win. But with those big names come big expectations. And neither of them has been on the practice field in quite some time. Kerrey hasn't been a candidate since 1994 and has spent the last six years in New York.

For Warner, the good news/bad news about being a governor limited to one term is that you are captured in time -- you either left office as a hero or a dolt. Warner still holds his Golden Boy image, but it has never been tested (and no, I don't count the Kaine victory as proof of Warner dominance).

While Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., is no doubt the most vulnerable Republican in the country, former Gov. Shaheen has a record that will make it impossible for her to run as just an outsider who wants to bring "change" to Washington, as successful '06 Democratic candidates Paul Hodes (N.H.-02) and Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.-01) were able to do.

Republican Senate incumbents Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., are running into a wicked headwind, but Democrats Al Franken, D-Minn., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., are not without their own shortcomings.

On the House side, there's little doubt that the DCCC is happy to see once-contested primary contests in top-targeted districts like Ohio-15 (the now-open Deborah Pryce seat) or Wash.-08 (Rep. Dave Reichert) clear out so early in the cycle. This gives Democrats Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio-15) and Darcy Burner (Wash.-08), even more time to build up their war chests. But, it also means that the die is now cast in these races, with no chance that a newer (and maybe stronger or more suitable) candidate will emerge. Plus, rerun candidates, as both Kilroy and Burner are, have a very low success rate the second time around.

This is not meant to sugarcoat the situation for the GOP. Polling in most states puts Republican candidates in a more perilous position than they were in November 2006. When a recent Republican poll in Colorado showed Democrats with a seven-point advantage on the generic ballot, you have to assume that a blue-state Republican is looking at a double-digit gap. Ouch.

What is important to remember, though, is that campaigns have a funny way of being important. And, as the saying goes, sometimes you make your own luck.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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