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Winning Senate won’t solve GOP’s problems

Whatever the precise size of the incoming wave – and we’ll leave it to forecasters and surfers to fight over that – most models are predicting a Republican takeover of the Senate, as well as gains in the House, following Tuesday’s midterm vote.

Such a victory gives the Republican Party a significant opportunity to recast itself in the eyes of voters. But let’s be clear: Winning on Tuesday will not necessarily portend success in 2016.

It doesn’t mean the GOP has solved its math problem.

Assuming that the Democrats replicate their 2012 electoral success with minority voters two years from now, and assuming that Hispanics grow as a percentage of the overall electorate, which they will, we calculate that Democrats will already have almost half (24 percent) of the votes they need to win a majority of Americans in 2016. To win 50.1 percent of the popular vote, we estimate, Republicans will need nearly 64 percent of the white vote – which would be a record for a nonincumbent Republican presidential candidate.

It also doesn’t mean the GOP has solved its map problem.

Republicans can win in red states. But the challenge for the GOP long term is winning in blue or purple states. That’s pretty important, because in 2016 the GOP faces the “Big Blue Wall” – the 18 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that have gone for the Democratic presidential candidate six elections in a row. They add up to 242 electoral votes, leaving the Democrats needing just 28 of the 183 electoral votes in the 18 toss-up states.

It doesn’t mean the GOP has solved its image problem.

Even though President Obama is significantly less popular than he was two years ago, the GOP is not well-positioned to capitalize because the party’s image has also gotten worse since 2012. In the most recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, half of respondents had a negative image of the Republican Party.

So that’s the bad news. But here is what a GOP victory on Tuesday does mean:

It means Republicans get to pass legislation.

The last time the country split control of the executive and legislative branches between the parties was during the 110th Congress in 2007-08. While President Bush vetoed a number of bills passed by the Democratic Congress, he also signed major legislation. There is no question that Obama will spend the next two years making a lot more “sign or veto” decisions.

Being able to campaign in 2016 with a combination of “Here’s how we moved the ball forward” and “Here are the great bills Obama vetoed” will improve Republicans’ standing. That strategy will not necessarily help GOP legislators withstand the more difficult election terrain resulting from a larger, younger and more diverse electorate, but it will help the GOP presidential nominee point to policies that he or she would shepherd into law.

It means the GOP gets to become the party of new ideas and responsible leadership.

Victory on Tuesday should make no one forget that voters still do not place a great deal of trust in the Republican Party to work toward tackling the problems they face. But Republican leadership in Congress will allow the GOP to develop and market new ideas, so the Democrats can no longer simply tag it as “the party of no.”

Glen Bolger and Neil Newhouse are partners in the Republican political and public affairs research firm Public Opinion Strategies.

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