In late July, the head of the Republican House campaign committee predicted a "wave" election. And pundits have generally assumed it will be strong Republican year, arguing the Democrats are being weighed down by President Obama's low approval ratings.
Republicans can still take full control of Congress in November, but only because the 2014 map is heavily tilted to the right, with several Democratically-held Senate seats up for re-election in states Mitt Romney won.
If it was a real wave, we'd see blue states becoming redder. We'd see big Republican gains in the House as well as the Senate. We'd see Republicans hold a clear advantage in the polls.
None of that is on the horizon.
Republican strategists tell Politico they don't expect to win more than a few additional House seats. The Washington Post election model just slashed the probability for Republican takeover of the Senate 86% to 52%, because later in the campaign "the model tilts to rely more heavily on candidates and polling and less on fundamentals ... [And] Democratic candidates are currently overperforming how past history suggests they should be doing in a number of races." Red state Senate races are dead heats in North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska.
How can that be if Obama's approval rating is supposed to weigh down Democrats?
Because the Republican Party's numbers are worse.
That suggests Obama's low approval is not a rejection of his preferred policy agenda or evidence of an ideological swing to the right, but a frustration with Washington dysfunction that prevents Obama from enacting his agenda, as well as an extra dollop of disgust with Republicans for failing to be serious about governing.
As Politico reported in its House race analysis, "Nearly a year after the government shutdown, Republicans privately say the party’s tattered public image is dragging down candidates in key races."
Republicans might still get lucky because of the 2014 map. But that would only mask their deeper problem: nobody likes them.