Too many times, the "movers and shakers" in both of the major political parties see very single election for any office or seat as a do-or-die proposition - as if losing a single one is the End of the World. Not always, and this is a point in time where I think the Republican party needs to be taking the long view, looking further down the road, taking advantage of things that are going to be coming up.
If you're not familiar with Charlie Cook, he's a political analyst and the author of "Off to the Races" which is syndicated in a number of papers. He generally seems to be an authentic non-partisan observer, though he did recently call all Democratic voters "whackos." The point I'm getting at is that Cook is pretty much the analyst's analyst. He has successfully predicted the outcome of better than 97% of the elections he covers nationally over his career. He digs into poll numbers at a far more granular level than "who is the nicer guy, more moral family man, stronger leader" etc. He analyzes individual states and regions to find out what is most important to those people and how they are polling in the fields that will influence their votes. The short version of the story is that he has pronounced ten states as still being "in play" for the 2004 presidential election, however all but two of them are pretty much in the bag, and Kerry is going to win. He gives Bush Minnesota, Nevada, and Missouri, but says that will not be nearly enough to make up for Kerry taking Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and Bush should lose the popular vote again by only a slight margin, but will lose the electoral college by around 27 if not more.
Of course, he freely admits that this is only a mid-August snapshot, and it could be altered radically with a big ticket news item in late September or October. Examples might be the CIA pulling Osama out of a basement in Virginia (don't laugh) or a sudden, unexpected upsurge in the economy and job growth numbers. (Highly unlikely at this point, but possible.) All things remaining close to constant, however, apparently Kerry will win, while the GOP maintains or slightly increases its hold on the House. The Senate should go to an increasing, but still slim, lead for the Democrats. But this should always be tempered with the knowledge that there are still a lot of very conservative Southern Democrats (the Blue Dogs) who will often buck the party line, so passage of liberal legislation there is not assured either.
In general terms, this is good news for everyone. I think the government works best when opposite parties control the Executive and Legislative branches. It forces some compromise and cooperation where it might not otherwise exist, and more moderate, centrist policies tend to win out over extremes to the left or right.
Also, for the Republicans in specific, losing an election or seeing some shockingly unexpected numbers is often the "slap in the face" that a party needs. It forces them to stop, re-evaluate, and say, "Ok, ok, we get it. We got your message. This isn't working, and we'll need to adjust." I know that a lot of us were hoping that would be the case when Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and took the White House with effectively no mandate from the people. Unfortunately the GOP also had enough of a stranglehold on the Legislative branch that extreme right wing policy could be bludgeoned through almost everywhere, and we were off to the races, drunk with power. This of course led to the mess we have today.
There is other long term good news for the GOP with a Bush loss in a few different areas. For one thing, if Kerry is the candidate in 2008, it will keep Hillary Clinton from seeking the nomination. With the numbers she polls at, she just might be unbeatable in a presidential race, and that's a nightmare I don't even want to consider. No matter who wins in 2008 with a 2004 Bush loss, Hillary couldn't realistically run until 2112. By that time she will be in her late sixties and may feel too worn out to run, or have simply lost interest in playing politician anymore.
Against a good, solid, moderate Republican ticket, I can't imagine Kerry being very hard to beat, so this could be win-win scenario for the GOP.
The question is, who to put up against Kerry in 2008? If we'd had the opportunity to replace Bush with a different candidate this year (sadly impossible) we could have had a great chance with John McCain. For a running mate, it would have been a dream ticket to get Christy Todd Whitman, but now she's been pretty much tainted by her association with Bush and her meek withdrawal to "spend more time with her family" after Bush dismantled the E.P.A. Olympia Snowe would be an ideal candidate, being one of the most moderate members of the GOP, and it would bring a woman to the ticket demonstrating that the Republicans are willing to do more than just pay lip service to having a "big tent" for membership, and not just put up the same old white billionaire boys club candidates.
By 2008, though, McCain may already be on his way to retirement. Some other promising possibilities are Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, or Candice Miller from Michigan. They all represent a younger, newer breed of Republicans that are looking to get back to old school GOP values such as smaller government, reduced spending and deficits, and increased states' responsibility and autonomy. If the Republicans were actually the first party to put up an all female ticket, for example Snowe - Blackburn, it would revolutionize the party and open the doors to a lot of participation among women and minorities.
So, in conclusion, if Bush does wind up being ousted (as it now looks) this shouldn't be seen as some signal of impending doom for the Republican party, but an opportunity to really move forward in the very near future. And we certainly need something like that to get us back on track.