Parties Seek an Edge in Midterm Elections

In this coming election, both parties know they face longstanding political realities that work for and against each of them.

In Lafayette Park, behind the White House, a passerby found a floppy disk several weeks ago containing the 2002 campaign observations of Bush administration political director Karl Rove. It described the challenges and opportunities facing both parties.

"One party will make history," the disk said.

"For Republicans in the House, it will be a challenge because the White House party has won House seats in only three out of the last 25 mid-term elections, a tough trend to buck.

"For Democrats in the House -- an opportunity because only three times has either party gained House seats four elections in a row, and Democrats have won seats for the last three elections.

"And for Republicans in the Senate, another challenge since the White House party has lost Senate seats in 16 of the last 22 mid-terms."

And with headlines in The New York Times and elsewhere suggesting the economy is stirring GOP worry in House races, Democrats smell blood.

"We always knew we would get over the finish line but now we have a little bit of help and a good breeze behind our backs," Democratic National Committee press secretary Jenny Backus said.

Hoping to blunt that breeze, President Bush and Vice President Cheney both ramped up their rosy economic rhetoric on the road Wednesday. They emphasized the war on terror too, knowing the issue benefits the GOP.

But Democrats want this election to be a referendum on Bush and the economy. This has been a big focus by national chair of the Voting Rights Institute Donna Brazile.

"The American people are now concerned about bread and butter issues like the economy and jobs and those issues fare well with Democrats," Brazile said.

But Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., tasked with protecting the Republican House majority, said because Democrats have no budget plan of their own, their criticism is empty.

"Democrats have nothing to offer but fear itself, trying to scare people, trying to talk down the economy and they have no agenda. They have no plan to rectify our current challenges," Davis said.

Davis admits corporate scandals like Enron and others adding to economic uncertainty could be a GOP liability, but he said it's still too early to tell. However, House Republicans have another worry: Weak Republican candidates for governor could drag down congressional candidates.

"That's an honest appraisal and something that we worry about in these states where our gubernatorial candidate is going down the tubes," Davis said.

With 36 gubernatorial races this year, Republicans have basically admitted that for the first time since 1994, they may lose their majority of offices. Now their concern is turning to avoiding the reverse coattails that could hurt GOP House and Senate candidates.