But now, with a quarter of time elapsed between that pulse-reading and the election, surer signs are emerging that something more substantial than a "micro-wave" is heating up this summer. Historical trends and big picture indicators--generic congressional ballot tests and approval ratings of President Bush's job performance in particular - have always been heavily stacked against the GOP in this "sixth year itch" cycle, but aggregations of more race-specific indicators are now suggesting that Republicans are headed for their most serious midterm losses in decades.
As national discontent over gas prices, Iraq, and general instability in the Middle East percolate, approval ratings of Congress, the president, and the national direction continue to languish at torrid depths. But as the Crystal Ball has cautioned again and again, Democrats cannot truly capitalize on the withering political climate faced by the GOP unless they succeed in convincing large numbers of voters to evaluate their home-state Republican candidates through the powerful lens of national displeasure. In other words, the size of Democrats' gains will be contingent upon how well they play the game of guilt by (Bush) association as Republicans seek to escape the shadow of their unpopular chief executive.
Beyond playing "guilt-by-association," Democrats must also devise a better, more substantive platform. Voters aren't that stupid and electoral attitudes are local. There are signs a new Congress is in the works come November, but some of this speculation may be pure hype if Democrats are unable to manage better voter turnout and create resonating policy themes.