Optimism and realism are two of the essential ingredients for winning in politics.
During the three national election victories presided over by George W. Bush and his top political adviser Karl Rove -- in 2000, 2002 and 2004 -- the Republican Party had reason to be both optimistic and realistic about its prospects for victory.
But regarding the 2006 midterms, just three weeks away, many Republican strategists and party donors believe the only realistic position is one that's far from optimistic. With an unpopular war hanging over their heads and President Bush in his sixth year in office (when a president's party typically suffers significant congressional losses), numerous Republican sources believe that Democrats are likely to win more than the 16 seats they need to win back control of the House and could possibly gain the six Senate seats required to resume control of that chamber.
Add in Bush's still low approval ratings and signs that Democrats are more revved up about the election than Republicans are, and there are good reasons for Republicans to dread Election Day.
Rove and some other senior strategists still profess great faith in what has worked for them in the past: using President Bush to frame the election around taxes and national security; negative ads to define their Democratic opponents as weak and liberal on those issues; superior financial resources; and a well-organized ground game on Election Day that has turned out conservatives at the polls.
The problem, many Republicans say, is that that recipe no longer appears on track, and they are losing faith that what has worked in the past will be enough to allow the party to keep control of Capitol Hill. Both the Bush White House and congressional Republicans are loath to think about what the last two years of the administration will be like if Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker of the House, but, increasingly, that reality that is being increasingly pondered in the nation's capital.
The House page scandal has not dramatically changed more than a handful of races decisively, but since it broke in the last week of September, good news and momentum have been in short supply for the GOP. Some Republicans muse about an unexpected event -- especially one involving national security -- that might change the flow of the political narrative, but as Election Day grows closer, many believe that such an event is unlikely, or, at least, unlikely to change the outcome.
The most hopeful Republicans are now trying to hold their losses low enough to keep narrow control of Congress. Democrats, somewhat psyched out and demoralized over the last few years at having never beaten George W. Bush's political machine, increasingly view that scenario as unrealistic dreaming by the opposition. Right now, Democrats are the optimistic party, giving them an unexpected momentum in what just might be an election breaking their way.
Mark Halperin, Political Director--ABC News, is co-author of the book "The Way To Win: Taking the White House in 2008" with John F. Harris of The Washington Post. Go to thewaytowin2008.com to find out more.