The 100th day of the Obama presidency is also a milestone for the Republican Party. It marks 100 days in an unfamiliar exile — controlling neither the House nor the Senate nor the executive branch.
And Republican fortunes took a turn for the worse on the 99th day of the Obama presidency. Having already been pushed off the top of Capitol Hill, the GOP appeared to lose one of its last remaining toeholds of power when Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) announced he's switching sides.
"The party has shifted very far to the right," Specter said, explaining that he isn't ditching the GOP so much as the Pennsylvania GOP is ditching him. Specter's pollster had concluded he could not win a Republican primary in his home state next year.
Specter complained that some 200,000 Pennsylvanians had fled the Republican Party last year. Nationwide, only about one in five people now identify themselves as Republicans, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll. That's the lowest level of party identification in more than 25 years.
"We have not done very well in the Northeast the last couple of years. We haven't done as well any places as we would like to have done in the last couple of years," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) admitted. "We intend to be competitive on a nationwide basis. I do not accept that we're going to be a regional party. And we're working very hard to compete throughout the country."
But as a practical matter, McConnell conceded that if Specter votes with Senate Democrats, and Al Franken holds onto his lead in the long-running Minnesota Senate race, Republicans will lose the 41 votes they need to block unwanted legislation with a filibuster.
"It certainly sets up the potential for the majority, if it chooses to, to run roughshod over the minority — to eliminate checks and balances and the kind of restraint that Americans have historically wanted from their government," McConnell said.
During these last 100 days, Senate Republicans have used the filibuster threat to extract concessions on some legislation, such as the economic stimulus bill, and to block other measures outright. In a few cases, they'll still wield that power. Specter, for example, says he'll continue to oppose the so-called "card check" bill making it easier for unions to organize workers. But in most cases, Republicans will have little if any say.
"Beltway Republicans are largely irrelevant in the debate, and I guess that's about as discouraging as you can get for people that have been in power at some level for 26 of the last 28 years," pollster Scott Rasmussen said.
Republicans are also wrestling with a leadership vacuum. Young Turks such as Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) have little national name recognition. And older Republicans who are well-known, such as Newt Gingrich, tend to have baggage.
None of these problems is unprecedented.
"It's not unusual for an opposition party to have a rough hundred days when the other party takes the White House, and I think the Republicans have had such a time," said Steve Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College.
He noted that the GOP has been beaten badly before, in 1964, for example, and again in 1992, only to come roaring back in midterm elections two years later.
"The last two times we've had really ambitious Democratic presidents, they were repudiated two years in, and the Republicans gained significant seats," Schier said. "Does that mean that will happen to Obama? By no means. But there are some examples that give the GOP hope."
Schier says that just as the 100-day mark is too soon to fully assess the Obama administration, it's also too soon to write off the Republican opposition.