It’s hard to decide who is going to have the harder time this Congressional election season: The Republicans attempting to overcome the public’s ire with Congress and the president; the Democrats, still trying to figure out who the hell they are; or the Washington press corps trying to concoct a smooth, clear narrative that magically ties the whole election campaign together.


Although the Congressional mid-term elections aren’t for another eight months, all three interested parties are working hard on the above-mentioned issues, and the press, as we noted two weeks ago, is busy trying to war game who is up and who is down. Adam Nagourney, writing in today’s New York Times, moves the ball a little further downfield by expanding on the theme that Democrats, despite a few years in the political wilderness trying to get their story straight, are still flailing — and badly. Nagourney identifies a few themes different Democratic hopefuls are running on, including the “disastrous prescription drug benefit bill,” the country’s reliance on Middle Eastern oil, the corruption scandals plaguing quite a few Republican Congressmen, the war in Iraq, “a Republican Congress acting as a rubber stamp for the president, [and] governmental incompetence.”


“These scattershot messages,” he writes, conjure up a narrative that will likely drive much coverage of the mid-term elections this year, which “reflect splits within the party about what it means to be a Democrat — and what a winning Democratic formula will be — after years in which conservative ideas have dominated the national policy debate and helped win elections.”


It looks like Nagourney is on to something (though it doesn’t take a genius to see that Democrats are scrambling for a message). With so much to choose from in the way of Republican bumbling, how does a candidate decide what to run on?


From the other side of the aisle, it looks as if some Republicans are distancing themselves from the president, and reporters are latching on to this as the narrative surrounding their plans. As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported yesterday, nowhere is this more evident than in the race to replace disgraced Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham in his former southern California district. “Republicans are embracing their party’s ideals while distancing themselves from its record in Washington,” reporter Dani Dodge writes. “As deficits balloon and scandals multiply under a Republican-controlled Congress, these candidates are touting independence over party loyalty and lashing out at the GOP as often as they criticize Democrats.”


The Los Angeles Times touts a similar theme today, with an article focusing on Republican presidential hopefuls for 2008 (is there any political off-season any more?).


It’s early in this process — way too early to stake out definitive premises — but there you have the first few strands of what looks to be a narrative rope in the making:


Republicans In Disarray, Democrats Too Befuddled To Take Advantage


We would only add: And Reporters Grasping at Straws

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.