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GOP Can Win Seats, But Can It Claim an Ideological Mandate?

Following midterm elections, what kind of mandate can the Republican Party claim? A new Bloomberg National Poll indicates that while voters are ready to elect Republicans, they’re not especially keen on the GOP itself or a majority of its proposals:

The poll finds Republicans in an unusual position: on the brink of making political gains while the party and its policies are unpopular. Likely voters are evenly divided on the Republican Party, with 47 percent holding a positive opinion. [...]

Republicans have said they want to cut $100 billion from the federal budget as early as January. That would amount to 21 percent of the government’s so-called discretionary spending and target programs such as college loans for low-income students or medical research at the National Institutes of Health.

Less than one-third of poll respondents — 31 percent — say they support cutting federal spending in areas such as education and health care, excluding Social Security, Medicare and defense.

Of course, these numbers won’t by any means stop a new Republican Congress from claiming a wide mandate to enact its agenda. Besides the obvious numerical calculus entailed in controlling the Senate, this is one of the reasons that the Senate races coming down to the wire in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wisconsin and Nevada are so important.

The candidates representing the GOP in these races are all true believers in deeply conservative causes, and a victory for them would certainly seem like a sign that the nation has moved significantly to the right. If they loose, however, writes E. J. Dionne, it’ll make Republican claims of a sea change that much harder to justify:

So far, being righter-than-right has been anything but helpful. O’Donnell’s nomination virtually sealed a victory for Democrat Chris Coons. In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, after spending the summer under assault from anonymously funded conservative groups, has been closing in on tea party favorite Ken Buck. In Wisconsin, Sen. Russ Feingold has narrowed Republican Ron Johnson’s once substantial lead.

In Alaska, the tea party’s Joe Miller faces a formidable write-in challenge from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whom he defeated in the Republican primary, even as Democrat Scott McAdams battles to sneak through on the GOP split.

Republican Rand Paul has clung to a lead over Democrat Jack Conway in Kentucky, a very red state where a Republican should not be having so much trouble. As for Nevada, nobody knows if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will prevail over marquee tea party candidate Sharron Angle, but Angle’s bizarre brand of conservatism is the one thing giving Reid a fighting chance.

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