WASHINGTON - The news just keeps getting worse for Republicans in this year's campaigns for Congress.
When Representative Tom Reynolds of New York announced yesterday that he will soon retire, that made it 26 GOP lawmakers who are calling it quits. Only seven seats are being given up by the Democrats, who see bright opportunities to fatten their majority in the House - and the Senate as well - in November.
That doesn't even count this month's shocker in Illinois, where Democrat Bill Foster won a special election in the district long represented by Republican Dennis Hastert, a former speaker of the House. Democrats say Foster's win to replace the retiring Hastert is a sign of things to come in the general election, when all House seats are on the line.
Money is pouring into the party's coffers, and potential competitors are surfacing for as many as 50 House seats now held by Republicans. That's an astounding number, considering most incumbents usually coast to reelection.
Independent analysts suggest Democrats could pick up 10 to 20 seats. The current House breakdown: Democrats 233 seats, Republicans 198, four vacant.
The situation does not appear much better for the GOP in the Senate, where Democrats are confident of capturing the seat of retiring Republican John Warner in Virginia and are campaigning hard for GOP seats being vacated in Colorado and New Mexico. Republicans have failed to recruit top-tier candidates to challenge Democratic senators in GOP-leaning Montana, South Dakota, and Arkansas.
The Democrats' current Senate margin is 51-49, including two independents who align themselves with the Democratic Party. Democrats are holding vague hopes of reaching a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority, which they say would stop Republicans from blocking their proposals.
Foster's win in Hastert's old district "sent a political shock wave across the country," said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "The ingredients that helped Foster are elsewhere."
They include "a great discontent with the Bush administration's economic policies and the war in Iraq, and the connection between the two," Van Hollen said. He said Democrats will tie all Republican candidates to President Bush, and will argue that GOP presidential candidate John McCain solidly backs Bush policies on the war and economy.
Campaign money, usually a Republican strong suit, is flowing to the Democrats this season. In the most recent reports, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had $34 million in the bank, compared with $4 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Republicans insist matters are not so dire. Nearly all the GOP-held House seats that Democrats are targeting are in Republican-leaning districts.
"Republicans are going to continue voting Republican," said NRCC spokeswoman Karen Hanretty. In fact, she said, Republican candidates have good chances of regaining seats the party lost in 2006 in California, Florida, and Arizona.
As for fund-raising, Hanretty resorted to a line that Democrats often employed before winning control of Congress. "They're the majority party," she said, "and when you're the majority, you raise more money. Campaigns are about more than money."