Is it 1994 again?
That's the question people keep asking those of us who keep an eye on the polls. You remember 1994: Newt Gingrich, the Contract with America, the Republican Revolution. That was the last time angry voters rose up and overthrew the majority party in Congress. Then, it was the Democrats who lost. Now, it's the Republicans in peril.
The answer is that it sure looks a lot like 1994 in the polls. The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll shows Congress with a 25 percent job-approval rating. That's the lowest rating for Congress since -- gulp -- 1994.
Even though President Bush is not on the ballot this fall, midterm elections typically are strongly influenced by a president's popularity -- or unpopularity, in the case of President Clinton in 1994. Clinton's job rating at this time in 1994? Forty-eight percent. President Bush's latest job rating? Thirty-three percent. Double gulp.
Democrats need a net gain of six Senate seats and 15 House seats to retake control of Congress. It's hard to see that happening if you look at the Senate and House races one by one. But national polls suggest a rising tide of voter anger captured by the ancient political maxim, "Throw the bums out!" And a majority of incumbents -- that is to say, the "bums" -- happen to be Republicans this time around.
What are people angry about? Congress can't pass immigration reform. It can't pass a budget. It can't even control its own spending. Ethics? Don't get us started: Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham have pled guilty to various offences; Rep. Tom DeLay faces charges; and now Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat, is under investigation.
Can Congress do something about gas prices? Why, yes. The Senate Republican leadership proposed a $100 rebate for all Americans. That proposal got laughed off the agenda. It has become this year's symbol of an out-of-touch Congress, just as the Terri Schiavo case was last year.
Republicans console themselves by repeating the mantra, "All politics is local." Which is true, except when it's not true. It was not true in 1994. And maybe not this year, either.