ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It could be worse.
That's how two top Republican leaders of both houses of Congress characterized their party's situation.
But the bleak environment for House and Senate Republicans could be improved because of the presence of two appealing mavericks at the top of the ticket, according to the No. 3 member of the GOP Senate leadership and the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman.
They made their comments at a daily briefing that National Journal cosponsored with CUNA and other groups.
"If this were 2006, we'd be history," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee). "But they [voters] know that Bush is not going to be president. They want real change."
He said that quite a few of the open Senate seats in play this year could go either way and if Sen. John McCain runs a good campaign that focuses on his ability to deliver change, some of those races could break for the GOP.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said his party will be helped because many of its best opportunities for gains are in areas where McCain will do well--such as Kansas--where they have the chance to win two seats. He also said that the emergence of energy as an issue will help the party because its position in favor of more drilling for oil is a viable solution to the problem.
When moderator Charles Cook, a well-known political pundit, noted that Cole had defeated two other candidates for the job, Cole quipped, "I demand a recount."
Neither Alexander nor Cole predicted that their party would recapture control of their respective chambers in this November's election. The Senate has 50 Democrats, 48 Republicans and two independents who are organized with the Dems. The House has 235 Democrats, 199 Republicans and one vacancy.
Before the event started, Cook acknowledged the presence of Sgt. Marcus Kuboy, the injured Iraq War veteran for whom CUNA and other groups built a home in the St. Paul suburbs and presented it to him. Cook praised Kuboy's service.