WASHINGTON – Republicans are positioned to score solid victories in November's congressional elections which would force President Barack Obama more to the political center, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday.
"If the election were today, we'd have a good day," McConnell told Reuters in an interview, saying Republicans were enjoying a reversal in fortunes after in the 2006 and 2008 elections when they were on the defensive and lost ground.
"We're on offense," he said.
Critics say Republicans have done little but oppose Obama on healthcare, finance, global warming and other issues. But the party expects to propose its own program in late September, as campaigns heat up for the November 2 elections, McConnell said.
He said voters could expect less spending and government intervention and a renewed push to finish free trade deals with Colombia, South Korea and Panama.
The 2006 elections brought a Democratic takeover of the Senate and House of Representatives, and they expanded their majorities in 2008, when fellow-Democrat Obama swept into the White House.
But with the economy languishing and many voters in a sour mood, Republicans could recapture the House -- and possibly also the Senate if everything goes their way.
"We are competitive, or ahead, in the following places where there are currently Democratic senators," the 68-year-old conservative leader said, rattling off "California, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Dakota, Arkansas and Wisconsin."
Republicans hold 41 of the Senate's 100 seats. If the 11 states McConnell mentioned were to flip on November 2, McConnell likely would be chosen Senate majority leader.
Traditionally, most voters start focusing on elections in September and the political landscape could change significantly by Election Day.
McConnell credited the Tea Party movement with helping Republicans build support by drawing attention to the growth of government spending and debt, concerns he said are shared by independent swing voters.
A recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll found that McConnell's party enjoys a big enthusiasm advantage over Democrats, with 72 percent of Republicans but only 49 percent of Democrats certain they will vote in November.
McConnell noted Democrats were likely to outspend Republicans in some of the 37 Senate campaigns this year, which could affect the outcome.
But a political atmosphere that "is not good" for Democrats will still propel Republicans to big gains, he argued.
If Republicans manage to take over one or both houses of Congress, or even approach political parity with Democrats, McConnell predicted Obama would have to change course for the final two years of his term.
He suggested the president could follow in the example of his 1990s Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, whose party lost control of Congress halfway through his first term.
"I think the president would be a born-again moderate," McConnell said. "People seem to have forgotten that Bill Clinton in the first two years (of his presidency) had a pretty left-wing agenda as well." Healthcare reform and some tax increases were part of Clinton's early agenda.
After losing Congress in 1994, Clinton embraced elements of the Republican agenda, including welfare reform.
The campaigns are lining up as a Republican attack against record U.S. budget deficits and an expanding federal government, versus Democrats who are warning voters that Republicans would return to the policies of unpopular former President George W. Bush.
McConnell sounded comfortable heading into the campaigns as the party of "no," as Democrats are trying to tar Republicans.
"It depends on what you're saying 'no' to. If you're saying 'no' to the massive amount of spending and debt and Washington takeovers and things like adding a quarter of a million federal employees with borrowed money like we have in the past year and a half, I think the American people are saying: 'Please say no to that. We want you to say no to that.'"
He said Republicans in the next Congress would do their best to undo healthcare reform -- a signature achievement of the administration so far -- but acknowledged that would be difficult against Obama who could block them with his veto.
"I wish we could undo it all," he said. "But it will take a couple of elections to try to do that."
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