It’s long been clear that the Republican brand is in serious trouble. Just how serious was revealed last week. Yes, President Bush’s disapproval rating is the highest for any President in the last 70 years. Well, since Gallup started polling actually. But wait, there’s more.

As Hillary Clinton romped in West Virginia, “voters in Mississippi elected a Democrat in a Congressional district that went for Bush-Cheney by 25 percentage points just four years ago,” writes Frank Rich in The New York Times. “It’s the third “safe” Republican House seat to fall in a special election since March.” And let’s not forget, he says, that this is in the “Deep South”.

Meanwhile, as Barack Obama lines up to claim the Democratic prize (by clinching more than half of the all-important superdelegates) talk of the Obama-Hillary dream team heats up, even if most experts dismiss it as tosh.

The Mississippi problem. Party leaders have been haplessly trying to identify possible remedies ever since [the Republicans lost Mississippi]. It didn’t help that their recent stab at an Obamaesque national Congressional campaign slogan, “The Change You Deserve,” was humiliatingly identified as the advertising pitch for the anti-depressant Effexor… Yet for all the Republican self-flagellation, it’s still not clear that the party even understands the particular dimensions of its latest defeat and its full implications for both Congressional races and John McCain in November…The district as a whole is the second whitest in Mississippi. (Its black population is 27.2 percent.) It’s the sole district Mr. Obama lost to Mrs. Clinton in the state’s Democratic primary in March. Yet even in this unlikely political terrain the combination of a race-based Republican campaign and the personal intervention of Mr. Cheney energized enough white moderates and black voters to flip the district to the Democrats. Keep in mind, it’s the Deep South we’re talking about here. Imagine how the lethal combination of the Bush-Cheney brand and backlash-inducing G.O.P. race-baiting could whip up a torrential turnout by young voters, black voters and independents in true swing states farther north and west. — Frank Rich, New York Times

McCain, the saviour? In a delicious piece of irony, many dispirited Republicans, devastated by Tuesday’s special election loss in Mississippi, now believe their savior to be John McCain — a not-so-constant conservative many of them also have long intensely disliked. The logic: McCain, the vaunted maverick, can move the party away from President Bush and reinvent a Republican brand that, at the moment, is in tatters. “The public is prepared to believe that McCain is a different kind of Republican,” said Republican Deputy Chairman Frank Donatelli, McCain’s point man at the committee. “This is not some political idea that was cooked up.” But for all the talk and expectation that McCain will run from Bush like a scalded dog, the reality is different; so far, he hasn’t drawn many stark contrasts at all. — Jonathan Martin, Politico

McCain should do a Schwarzenegger. The answer for GOP presidential candidate John McCain: take a page out of the Schwarzenegger playbook and sell a product that is “counter” to the current GOP brand on issues like global warming, spending and even immigration reform. McCain comes to the Golden State this week on a campaign and fundraising swing, including a rally Thursday in Stockton being publicized with an invitation graced by a picture of a McCain hug — not with President Bush but with Schwarzenegger. And the governor, in an interview with The Chronicle last week, had some candid advice and observations, not only about the GOP brand — but on McCain’s efforts to expand his appeal to independents and disillusioned Democrats. “The Republican idea is a great idea, but we can’t go and get stuck with just the right wing,” Schwarzenegger said. — San Francisco Chronicle

Obama prepares for victory. Barack Obama is planning to declare himself the effective winner of the long-running contest with Hillary Clinton at the close of the Kentucky and Oregon primaries tomorrow. At that point, he should have passed one of the last remaining milestones in the race, securing more than half the 3,253 elected delegates. To exploit this he is to shun the tradition of hosting a party in one of those two states after the polls close and instead hold a rally in Iowa, a decision full of symbolism. It was in Iowa on January 3 that Obama won the first of the 49 Democratic contests so far and irretrievably damaged Clinton’s reputation for invincibility. — Ewan MacAskill, Guardian

The running mate question.  …Obama must weigh the wishes of a large Clinton base that remains in the party and wonder if it would be better to have the Clintons inside or outside the tent. The choice of Hillary Clinton would also blunt Obama’s message of change, turning the page on old Washington. “It might be too much for the public to swallow at one time,” says presidential historian Robert Dallek. “A black man and a woman might just be too much.” If Obama is seeking to shore up support in Pennsylvania, Ohio or Indiana – states with strong industrial bases won by Clinton in the spring primaries – many analysts believe he would do well to pick a strong Clinton supporter rather than the defeated candidate herself. — Tim Harper, Toronto Star

What a woman president would need to look like. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton may or may not become the first female president of the United States, but if fate and voters deny her the role, another woman will surely see if the mantle fits. That woman will come from the South, or west of the Mississippi. She will be a Democrat who has won in a red state, or a Republican who has emerged from the private sector to run for governor. She will have executive experience, and have served in a job like attorney general, where she will have proven herself to be “a fighter” (a caring one, of course). She will be young enough to qualify as postfeminist (in the way Senator Barack Obama has come off as postracial), unencumbered by the battles of the past. She will be married with children, but not young children. She will be emphasizing her experience, and wearing, yes, pantsuits. Oh, and she may not exist. But this composite of Madam President is suggested by political strategists and talent scouts, politicians and those who study women in politics. — Kate Zernike, The New York Times

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