WASHINGTON — These are the dark days for the Republican establishment. It is blamed for everything from a lagging White House response to hurricane Katrina to high gas prices. Now majority leader Tom DeLay is under two indictments for misuse of campaign funds. Senate majority leader Bill Frist is under investigation on suspicion of insider trading in the stock of his family's chain of hospitals. And the investigation of the leak of the identity of a covert CIA agent has raised the question of whether laws protecting national security secrets were violated.
A Pew Research Center poll shows Republican leadership in Congress is down to a 32 percent approval rating. The rating for President Bush hovers under 40 percent - unusual for a second term.
But, paradoxically, Republican public opinion losses do not translate as corresponding Democratic gains. In an NBC-Wall Street Journal sampling, 48 percent said they wanted a Democratic Congress. But 39 percent still preferred a Republican one.
In recent weeks Democrats have concentrated attacks on what they call "a culture of cronyism and corruption," but observers generally don't believe that will prevail in the coming campaign without a positive agenda. It is recalled that Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" helped the Republicans sweep to victory in 1992 and forced President Bill Clinton to proclaim that he was still relevant.
By early next year, the Democrats are expected to roll out an agenda featuring healthcare, energy independence, economic security and governmental reform. That veteran political sage, David Broder of The Washington Post, writes that "a path back to power for the Democrats lies in finding a way to connect with the political center."
Political scientists Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck have written a report titled The Politics of Polarization. They say that to win, the Democrats will have to revise their doctrine on national security and on social and moral issues. Mr. Galston and Ms. Kamarck command attention among Democrats because they helped to guide policy for the successful Clinton campaign in 1996.
The message of the Democratic political scientists, dressed up with a lot of charts and graphs, is that next year the Democrats can halt what looked like a permanent Republican realignment. But they will need a lot more than bumper stickers announcing "It's time for a change."
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.