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    Republicans Looking Ahead to 2010

    President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress appear to be making progress on health care reform, and the chances of opposition Republicans blocking a reform bill now seem to be fading.  But Republicans remain optimistic about their political fortunes in 2010.

    With Democratic senators standing by his side recently at the White House, the president said he was cautiously optimistic about finally getting a health care reform package through the Congress that in his words, will touch the lives of nearly every American.

    "They are waiting for us to act," said President Obama. "They are counting on us to show leadership, and I don't intend to let them down and neither do the people standing next to me."

    Opinion polls have shown public support for the president's health care plan has weakened in recent months, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky remains hopeful that the Democratic bill can still be stopped.

    "But I think they are having an extremely difficult time convincing 60 people to completely ignore the wishes of the American people with a weak, flimsy argument to make history, when we all know that many things that happened in history were not good," said Mitch McConnell.

    Democrats need the support of 60 of the 100 U.S. senators to approve the legislation and avoid parliamentary delaying tactics that could kill the bill.

    Enacting health care reform has been a top priority for President Obama, and the issue is likely to figure prominently in next year's midterm congressional elections.

    Mr. Obama won't have to seek re-election until 2012, but Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown says the president will be a major player in next year's congressional elections.

    "The notion that the 2010 elections won't be nationalized or won't be about Barack Obama I think is unlikely," said Peter Brown. "This election will be about President Obama.  He is not on the ballot, but his party is on the ballot and many of his supporters are on the ballot."

    Even if they fail to block the health care bill, Republicans are feeling optimistic about their chances next year.

    The president's party historically loses congressional seats in the first midterm election, and Republicans have already improved their image with independent voters in gubernatorial victories in November in New Jersey and Virginia.

    Ed Gillespie is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

    "Independent voters moving to vote Republican by two-to-one margins," said Ed Gillespie. "That is significant and I think probably the most telling harbinger for the 2010 midterm elections."

    Republicans also hope to take advantage of the grass roots opposition that swelled up this year over the president's health care plan and over the growing budget deficit.

    Both issues have energized conservatives and that could give Republicans an advantage in voter intensity heading into next year's congressional elections.

    Texas Senator John Cornyn is leading the Republican effort to pick up more senate seats in 2010.

    "We can say that Republicans have a big opportunity to help restore checks and balances and yes, even some fiscal discipline to Washington, D.C.,  but what I think we have been given is an opportunity, an opportunity, nothing more and nothing less," said John Cornyn.

    Democrats could have a challenging time inspiring the same coalition of voters that elected Mr. Obama president to get out and vote in congressional elections next November.

    Outgoing Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is the Democrat's national chairman.  Kaine says the party's strong performance in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections gives it a strong foundation for next year's elections.

    "We are broadening geographically, we are broadening ideologically, and that creates some challenges, obviously, and we are broadening demographically," said Tim Kaine. "While on the Republican side, we see a party that is narrowing geographically, that is narrowing ideologically and that is narrowing demographically."

    Some Democrats are disillusioned, however, at what they see as a disappointing record of follow-through on President Obama's agenda of change when he first took office.

    Robert Borosage is with the liberal group, The Campaign For America's Future.

    "When he speaks, he lays out the clearest discussion of where we ought to go as a country," said Robert Borosage. "It is quite an extraordinary gift.  I think that has all been a strength.  I think in terms of implementation and his strategy in terms of trying to pass things, it has been a weakness."

    Public opinion polls show the president's approval rating now about 50 percent, a sizable drop from when he first took office last January.  But the same surveys show that voters are still skeptical about the Republican's ability to lead and handle issues, says pollster Peter Brown.

    "Despite all the problems that the president may have in public opinion, it is very clear that Americans trust President Obama a lot more than they trust Republicans," he said. "For instance on the question of health care, by double-digits they prefer that President Obama do it."

    Experts agree that the most important thing the president can do to improve Democrat's chances in next year's election is do all he can to improve the economy and help get Americans back to work. 
     


    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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