The Take

Republicans rally, revel at New Orleans conference

By Dan Balz
Friday, April 9, 2010; 12:32 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- The Southern Republican Leadership Conference meeting opened with a roar here Thursday night.

Liz Cheney's blistering attack on President Obama's foreign policy made her father's rhetoric look pastel in comparison. Newt Gingrich described the Obama administration as the most radical in the history of the country and said Republicans should refuse to fund Obama's health-care plan. And Sarah Palin hasn't even spoken yet.

The tone of the opening session was both harsh and exuberant. Harsh because the worldview of the speakers is so dramatically opposed to that of the president and his team. Exuberant because Republicans have come to here to celebrate what they see as a conservative resurgence 15 months into the Obama administration.

There's little wonder the mood in New Orleans is so upbeat. The conference began on a day when the Gallup organization reported that the image of the Democratic Party has sunk to its lowest point in its 18 years of polling on such a thing.

Forty-one percent of Americans now say that they have a positive impression of the Democrats -- five points worse than its previous low point, recorded in 2005. That compares with the 42 percent who say they have a positive view of the Republicans.

The significance is clear from the charts on the Gallup Web site. For most of the past four years, Democrats have enjoyed a clear advantage over Republicans in the eyes of the public. On the eve of the 2006 elections, which brought a change in party control in Congress, Democrats had a 15-point advantage in favorability. Just last summer, that advantage was still 11 points.

The report of Gallup's findings was followed Friday morning by the news that Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), whose vote for the health-care bill earned him the enmity of tea party activists and many in the antiabortion movement, will retire rather than seek reelection.

Stupak's decision puts another Democratic seat in jeopardy, this one in a northern Michigan district that Obama carried by just 6,000 votes in 2008 but which George W. Bush carried more handily in 2000 and 2004.

The Democrats' decline is in large measure because of the changing views of independent voters. At the time of Obama's election in 2008, 47 percent of independents said they had a positive impression of the Democrats. In Gallup's latest poll, that has plummeted to just 30 percent.

Independents aren't wild about the Republicans -- just 36 percent rate them favorably in the Gallup poll, up from 31 percent at the time of the 2008 election. But with rank-and-file Republicans showing renewed confidence in their own party, the GOP has managed to achieve parity with the Democrats just as the 2010 election season begins to open.

The implications for November are clear: Sizable Democratic losses are virtually guaranteed unless there is a significant reversal in fortunes for the president's party. What remains at issue is how big those gains might be.

Gingrich sees a tsunami building that he believes will return Republicans to power in Congress. Other Republicans are more cautious at this point, questioning whether the elements are there yet for another 1994 sweep.

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