Republicans panic as Dole faces fading fortunes

Only a year ago, they ruled Capitol Hill and the White House appeared ripe for the taking. Today Speaker Newt Gingrich is arguably the least loved public figure in America, their Presidential aspirant Bob Dole trails Bill Clinton by more than 20 per cent in the polls, and Republicans contemplate the previously unthinkable - that the Democrats may well win back Congress.

Six months remain before election Day on 5 November, time enough for the economy, Whitewater, or events in Bosnia, Russia or the Middle East to redraw the political landscape; but rarely in history have the fortunes of the two major US parties so swiftly and completely reversed.

In the spring of 1995, Republican and Democratic pundits alike were proclaiming a secular change in national politics, and a South returning to the Republican fold after more than a century, that would virtually guarantee the party a lock on power for decades. Today the calculation is very different and increasingly desperate: how to prevent the loss of just 19 seats that would hand the House of Representatives back to the Democrats.

For the moment at least, that task looks mighty hard. The problem is a vicious circle which the party shows no sign of breaking: an unpopular Republican Congress, saddled with an image of extremism and intolerance, drags down Mr Dole - whose own shortcomings as campaigner and projector of a clear-cut message cast a pallor on the prospects of Republican Congressmen and Senators themselves running for re-election. In voting preferences for the 435 House races, the Republicans now trail Democrats nationally by seven points.

The man in the trickiest position is Mr Dole. Far from his runaway victory in the primaries serving as a springboard, it has proved a trapdoor into an opinion poll abyss. According to a CNN/USA Today poll this week, Mr Clinton's lead has widened to 21 points, a gap at this stage which has never been closed in any recent election.

Some sanguine Republicans point to the 19 point advantage which Michael Dukakis briefly enjoyed over George Bush in the summer of 1988 before being soundly defeated that November. What they do not mention however is that Mr Bush was facing one of the poorest campaigners of recent times. Alas for Mr Dole, he must face one of the very best.

The result has been creeping panic, verging on open rebellion. Emerging briefly from a self-imposed political purdah last week, Mr Gingrich pronounced the party to be "in a funk." A recent TV interview by Mr Dole was described by the Republican columnist Bob Novak as the "worst single television interview" by a television candidate in 20 years, reflecting "disorganisation, lack of discipline and failure to articulate a coherent message."

But how is Mr Dole to put that right ? Step down as Senate majority leader, say some, and get out into the country to project a vision for the country, shedding the mantle of dour legislator unable to look beyond the fine print of a legislative amendment. But that overlooks two uncomfortable realities, say those who want Mr Dole to stay put here: For a man who is a wretched campaigner, the Senate floor is a better theatre - and the exposure is free. After an especially expensive primary season, Mr Dole has no money to spend on campaigning and advertising.

As that argument continues, the Kansas Senator is signally failing to display the his vaunted mastery of the Senate. On a host of issues, ranging from the minimum wage to health care reform, he has been stymied and outmanoeuvred - sometimes by a Democratic Senate minority, sometimes by opponents within Republican ranks.

As he conducts Congressional business, Mr Dole must also tend to party affairs, above all the August nominating convention which, along with his choice of Vice President, will be his great opportunity to mobilise his dispirited troops. But at the most untimely moment, the abortion issue again threatens to create turmoil in San Diego.

The bugbear, as in the past, is the traditional clause in the party platform calling for a constitutional ban on abortion.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Electronic Sub-System Design Verification engineer

Flexible working, annual bonus, pension & more.: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the oppor...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Architect

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? MBDA has e...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Design Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

MBDA UK Ltd: PCB Technologies Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor