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Editorial: Republicans in Decline

Blue days for the GOP

The most significant election in the past week wasn't Hillary Clinton's victory in the West Virginia primary, but a Democratic win of a congressional seat in Mississippi.

It was the third Democratic victory this year in House districts long held by the GOP – the others were in Louisiana and Illinois. Could this be a harbinger for November?

Travis Childers easily won the Mississippi special election for a seat that Republicans had held since 1994. The conservative Democrat captured a district that President Bush had won by a 25-point margin in 2004.

He won despite a last-minute visit to the district by Vice President Cheney. Or in part because of Cheney?

The string of GOP losses has Democrats feeling upbeat. After 12 years as the minority party, House Democrats now have increased their majority to a commanding margin of 236 to 199 seats.

The outlook for congressional Republicans in November isn't any better. The party is short on campaign cash and on credible candidates. Republican strategist Karl Rove once boasted about creating a permanent Republican majority. Now the GOP is trying to figure out how to avoid long-term minority status.

The Democrats' success isn't due to better ideas. They have produced few legislative solutions in Washington since regaining control of Congress in January 2007. Rather, the Republican Party is self-destructing after five years of war, record-high gas prices, and an economy that's hurting middle-class workers.

Eighty-two percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track, in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. That's the worst rating in 30 years. And voters are holding it against President Bush and the GOP.

Bush isn't the only elected official responsible for his party's misfortune. While Republicans controlled Congress, they spent heavily and threw the country deeper into debt. They blindly supported the administration's bungled military policies in Iraq. And they got caught up in several scandals of greed and sexual misconduct.

The GOP lost two veteran Pennsylvania congressmen in 2006, Curt Weldon and Don Sherwood, whose defeats were the result of self-inflicted wounds rather than failings of the national party.

John McCain could provide the GOP a boost away from Bush. But with each passing day, McCain sounds less like the maverick of old and more like he's running for a third Bush term. Voters in Mississippi just showed, again, it's a losing formula for the GOP.

Last week, dispirited House Republican leaders unveiled a new agenda to help middle-class families under the slogan "The Change You Deserve." How apt: it's the trademarked advertising pitch for an antidepressant drug.