WASHINGTON — EVEN the Democrats who are leading in their races this year are swimming against a fierce national riptide.
One current is a powerful anti-incumbent pull that is still running at least as high as in 1992, when voters elected more new members than to any Congress since 1949.
The other current is running specifically against Democrats, and campaign strategists in both parties say they feel it growing.
Republican Neal Newhouse, whose firm is working for some 30 congressional candidates, says the partisan debate over the crime bill brought some Republican voters back to candidates of their own party.
Democrat Mark Mellman, who works with more than 10 candidates, says: ``No question that things seem to be leaning the Republicans' way in the past number of months.''
Tony Coelho, the former Democratic congressman who has become the lead coordinator of Democratic campaign efforts, notes that these trends are little more than the familiar historical pattern for the party that holds the White House.
``This is a typical off-year election,'' Mr. Coelho said at a Monitor breakfast Friday, citing press clips in 1982 and 1990 that showed Republican candidates distancing themselves from Presidents Reagan and Bush, respectively.
``The public basically gets turned on when there's a new man elected to the presidency, then they get disappointed,'' he explained.
In fact, the pattern since the turn of the century holds that the ``out party'' gains 33 House seats and four Senate seats in nonpresidential-election years. A gain that high would be far higher than all but the most optimistic Republican expectations.
Coelho says he expects Democrats to lose 18 to 22 seats in the House and two or three in the Senate, although more-independent analysts are forecasting higher Democratic losses now.
Democrats are clearly positioned to lose many more seats than Republicans lost in the last off-year election. Midway through the Bush presidency in 1990, his party lost nine House seats and one Senate seat.
Polling analyst Everett Ladd of the University of Connecticut believes that more is occurring than customary pendulum swings in party balance. He sees a philosophical swing against the Democrats continuing from during the Reagan years. The failure of the Clinton health-care reform plan, he says, was a pure test that the public believes that enlarging the cost and scope of government does not work.
Political analyst Charles Cook sees three voter types going into this election. Independent, Perot-type voters are angry and motivated to vote. So are conservatives on social issues. But liberals are disillusioned and more inclined to stay home Nov. 8., he says.
None of those factors bodes well for Democrats.