By Mark Willen, Senior Political Editor July 10, 2008 John McCain is struggling with an ineffective (and frequently changing) campaign staff, an unenthusiastic party behind him, a public that seems to be fed up with the Bush years and all things Republican, and No. 2 status in the money race. Still, Americans usually pick a president on the basis of personal characteristics, McCain is staying close enough to Barack Obama to suggest this will be a tight election. Not so with Republicans in Congress. For them, the news -- and our forecasts -- just get worse. We've said before that this election is turning into a national referendum -- one that will be influenced more by the public mood than by local issues and candidates. That's terrible news for the Republicans. Consider the Senate situation. There are 35 seats up this year, with 23 now in GOP hands. But only 15 are even remotely competitive and 13 of those are held by Republicans. Even if the competitive races broke evenly, Republicans would have a net loss of 6.5. But most of the trends are in the Democrats' favor, putting them within striking distance of the nine seats they need to get to 60, the magic number that allows them to end filibusters. Our latest survey of Senate races shows the GOP certain to lose one seat (Virginia), very likely to lose one other (New Mexico) and in real danger of losing two more. (Colorado and New Hampshire). Two others are at best a toss-up (Mississppi and Minnesota). And Republicans have only a slight lead in Alaska, Maine, and Oregon. Even some Republicans who should be shoo-ins (John Cornyn in Texas, Pat Roberts in Kansas, Liddy Dole in North Carolina and Mitch McConnell in Kentucky) face challengers who are getting uncomfortably close in recent polls. Meanwhile, the only Democrat even remotely in danger -- Louisiana's Mary Landrieu -- has been picking up strength. The House is no better. Democrats, having picked off the low hanging fruit already, have a 236-199 edge in the House, but seem certain to add at least 10 to their margin, with a possibility of going as high as 20. Republicans are trying everything they can think of to stem the tide, but so far, nothing is working. And as the atmosphere worsens, the in-fighting increases and it gets harder to raise the money needed to fend off challengers. All of this has major implications for policy decisions next year, no matter who ends up in the White House.