WASHINGTON — On the defensive across the country and staring down an election that could see them reduced to an ineffective minority in the House and the Senate, congressional Republicans are offering a new argument to voters: the danger of single-party rule in the nation's capital.
Presidential candidate John McCain, looking for a comeback, argued Sunday that voters should elect him president to create a check on a Democratic Congress that he says is determined to increase taxes and the size of government.
"That's what's going to happen if the Democrats have total control of Washington," McCain told a rally, speaking of higher taxes and a bloated federal bureaucracy. "We can't let that happen."
Democrats are increasingly confident that Sen. Barack Obama will cruise to victory Nov. 4 and that his election will be accompanied by the biggest congressional majorities their party has enjoyed in decades, perhaps even a filibuster-proof 60-seat presence in the Senate.
They have begun to outline an agenda that would center on stimulating the economy in the short term and then move quickly to beginning a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq and focusing on domestic priorities such as overhauling the health care system.
At the same time, party leaders are mindful of the dangers associated with one party controlling all levers of government, particularly given the monumental financial and international problems the next president and a new Congress will inherit.
"The larger the majority, the more likelihood that people think they can go off on their own. But being in the minority for 12 years was probably pretty good for us. We are a party much more aware of the necessity of unity," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
In their eleventh-hour appeals for ticket-splitting, Republicans on the campaign trail are warning of Democratic overreach.
"If I lose this seat and one party has control across the board, then you'll see changes," Republican Sen. Norm Coleman told voters last week in Minnesota, where he is trailing comedian-turned-politician Al Franken in several polls. In North Carolina, Sen. Elizabeth Dole warns in a new television spot that Democrats will "get a blank check" if challenger Kay Hagan wins.
Poll numbers offer the GOP little comfort. The percentage of Americans saying they prefer that the same party control the White House and Congress has reached new highs in the Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll. On Thursday and Friday, the poll showed that 50 percent of likely voters wanted one party to control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and that 30 percent preferred split-party rule.
In the House, Democrats could gain 20 to 30 seats, boosting their majority to about 250, and they appear assured of a significant expansion of their Senate ranks.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.