GOP getting crushed in polls
May 10, 2008

John McCain is planning to run as a different kind of Republican. But being any kind of Republican seems like some sort of death sentence these days.

In case you've been too consumed by the Democratic race to notice, Republicans are getting crushed in historic ways both at the polls and in the polls.

At the polls, it has been a massacre. In recent weeks, Republicans have lost a Louisiana House seat they had held for more than two decades and an Illinois House seat they had held for more than three. Internal polls show that next week they could lose a Mississippi House seat that they have held for 13 years.

In the polls, they are setting records (and not the good kind). The most recent Gallup Poll has 67 percent of voters disapproving of President Bush; those numbers are worse than Richard Nixon's on the eve of his resignation. A CBS News poll taken at the end of April found only 33 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the GOP — the lowest since CBS started asking the question more than two decades ago. By comparison, 52 percent of the public has a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

Things are so bad that many people don't even want to call themselves Republicans. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has found the lowest percentage of self-described Republicans in 16 years of polling.

"The anti-Republican mood is fairly big, and it has been overwhelming," said Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis.

With an environment so toxic, does McCain have even a chance of winning in November?

The McCain camp thinks so — but only if he sands down the "R" next to his name. "Nobody ever gets elected president by running on their party label," said Charlie Black, a senior McCain adviser. "The character, the qualities, the independence — that certainly allows him to rise over the party label. It is more important than usual to rise above the party label."

This statement seems a little at odds with the current McCain strategy. The presumptive GOP nominee has spent much of the recent campaign fastening himself to the traditional Republican brand and even to Bush himself. McCain's views on the war, the overall economy (especially supporting the Bush tax cuts he previously opposed), the mortgage crisis and judicial appointments are hardly the stuff of a new kind of Republicanism.

McCain risks looking inauthentic and conventional to both camps if he simply solidifies his standing with conservatives and then races back to the middle to appeal to swing voters.

For now, Republicans are heartened by how well McCain sometimes does in head-to-head polling with Barack Obama, the likely Democratic nominee. But it's silly to watch those numbers: They fluctuate and reflect nothing more than momentary feelings about the candidates, and they come at a time when public attention is fixed on the final rounds of the Democratic slugfest.

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