Having just lost the White House and facing smaller minorities in the House and the Senate, Republicans begin the 2010 election cycle in a remarkably similar position to where they were in 1993 just one year before the GOPs historic sweep of Congress.
At least on paper.
But while on the surface the landscape is similar, a closer examination of todays Republican Party reveals significant weaknesses and a steeper climb back to the majority.
By the numbers, the GOP has an almost identical starting point in the House and the Senate as it did in 1993. Republicans held 176 seats in the House and 43 seats in the Senate at the beginning of the 103rd Congress, compared with 178 House seats and 41 Senate seats in the 111th.
With a volatile economy and President Barack Obamas expansive recovery plans, some Republicans are sensing that the 2010 elections could be a replay of the 1994 GOP tsunami.
A yes vote [on the budget] on top of the stimulus vote could beat enough Democrats to get Republicans back into the majority, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said in a recent interview.
Theres little question that the GOP is expected to pick up House seats next year, but Republicans have a very slim chance of getting the 40 seats they need.
The Depth of Obamas Victory
In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected with more Electoral College votes than Obama (370 versus 365), but his victory was more personal, considering Democrats simultaneously lost 10 seats in the House and there was no net change in the Senate.
Obamas 2008 victory was wider and deeper. He received 53 percent of the popular vote (compared with only 43 percent for Clinton in a three-way race), and his coattails helped Democrats net 21 House seats the most to accompany an incoming president since Dwight Eisenhowers coattails brought 22 in 1952. Democrats also gained at least seven Senate seats (with Minnesota a possible eighth), the most since Ronald Reagan brought in a dozen new GOP Senators in 1980.
Despite their similar minority position 16 years ago, Republicans were held in higher regard than today. A May 1993 survey for U.S. News & World Report showed the Republican Party with 47 percent favorable/43 percent unfavorable ratings. A March 23-26 poll conducted for the liberal Web site Daily Kos by the nonpartisan firm Research 2000 showed the GOP with 27 percent
favorable/64 percent unfavorable ratings.
And even though President George H.W. Bush lost re-election in 1992, he left office with higher approval ratings than his son. According to a mid-January 1993 Gallup Poll, the 41st president rebounded to a 56 percent approve/37 percent disapprove job rating. George W. Bush carried a 34 percent approve/61 percent disapprove job rating in his final days, according to Gallup.
Today, the Republicans problem is more than likability. The party is less trusted and fewer voters identify with it. According to a Feb. 19-22 ABC News/Washington Post poll, Americans trust Democrats, 56 percent to 30 percent, over Republicans to do a better job in coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years.
And unlike 1992, a major shift in party identification has occurred, even if it is temporary. Self-identified Democrats outnumbered Republicans by just 3 points (38 percent to 35 percent) in 1992 compared with a 7-point Democratic edge (39 percent to 32 percent) last fall, according to exit polling.