Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: GOP winning formula: Low gas prices, rising stocks

I wrote a column in August on how I see the 2006 midterm elections shaping up. It ended up being my best read column so far this year. So, with less than a month to go until the Nov. 7 election, it's a good time to revisit my summer predictions.

Democrats need to pick up 15 House seats and six Senate seats to take control of Congress. With Vice President Dick Cheney casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate, Democrats need to control 51 seats. The party has poured millions of dollars into Congressional races this year, but two numbers beyond the Democrats' control will have the biggest impact on the elections.

If gas is selling for $2 a gallon by Election Day, Nancy Pelosi can forget about becoming Speaker of the House. Falling gas prices will help Republicans keep control of both houses of Congress. Another number giving Democrats fits is the Dow Jones average. Stocks have rebounded from their post-Sept. 11 slide and the Dow has reached new heights.

Americans are feeling better about the future. That's bad news for a political party counting on bad times to win elections.

Republicans should also win a majority of the 26 governor contests on the Nov. 7 ballot. So pack up your troubles and wait for Hillary Clinton to revive the Democratic Party's fortunes in 2008.

Pennsylvania remains the battleground state for control of Congress in 2006. Pennsylvania has 19 Congressional districts and Republicans hold 12 of those seats.

A half-dozen of the state's Congressional seats are in play, according to Democratic strategists, but it's unlikely Democrats will pick up more than one or two new Pennsylvania seat, effectively killing their chance of controlling the House.

The Senate isn't looking much better for the Democrats. The slam-dunk defeat of Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, is no longer a sure thing. Santorum has erased the double-digit lead that his opponent, Bob Casey Jr., built up in the past year.

Casey has a new campaign strategy — hiding from the voters. I keep looking for Casey's photo on the side of a milk carton.

Here's a closer look at how I see some key Pennsylvania races.

In the 6th Congressional District, incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach is pulling ahead of Lois Murphy despite six months of negative (and largely false) campaign ads from the Murphy camp. Gerlach will double his margin of victory from 2004 over the liberal lawyer-lobbyist who is backed by Gov. Ed Rendell.

In the 7th Congressional District, incumbent Republican Curt Weldon should defeat Joe Sestak is what will probably be a tight race. The advantage still goes to Weldon, who has deep roots in the district. Sestak is a carpetbagger that the Democratic Party dropped into the district just for this race.

Freshman Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick should win the 8th Congressional District in the affluent suburbs north of Philadelphia over challenger Patrick Murphy, who doesn't appear old enough to vote. Murphy was also dropped into the district by the Democratic Party to run for Congress. Sestak and Murphy are too liberal for either district and would do better in the New England.

The only seat Democrats should pick up in Pennsylvania is in the 10th District, where incumbent Republican Don Sherwood's personal life is key to the election. Sherwood has been involved in a very public extramarital affair and to make things worse, his mistress filed assault charges against the Congressman. Democrat Chris Carney will take the district, but don't be too alarmed. Republicans should be able to win back the seat in 2008.

And don't be surprised if John Murtha loses his seat in Pennsylvania's 12th District. While Murtha's anti-American, anti-military rants play well with the Howard Dean/Cindy Sheehan wing of the Democratic Party, the folks back home are sick of hearing Murtha badmouth the U.S. and its soldiers. Murtha will lose to Republican Diana Irey.

Despite polls that show Gov. Rendell with a 20-point advantage over GOP challenger Lynn Swann, I'm sticking by my earlier prediction that Swann will unseat the tax-and-spend liberal in what will be the biggest political upset of the year.

Rendell has broken too many promises in his first four years as governor. Voters have a history of punishing politicians who won’t tell the truth ("Read my lips, no new taxes" and "I did not have sex with that woman.") Rendell will pay the price for his dishonesty.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He can be e-mailed at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com