WASHINGTON -- Republicans eyeing fall's midterm elections have some things to feel good about for the first time in months: President Donald Trump's numbers are up, their generic ballot deficit is down, and a growing economy lets them talk about something other than the tweets out of the White House.
It doesn't mean the GOP is on track to stave off deep losses in November -- just that those defeats no longer appear as inevitable as they once did.
"I'm more bullish than I've been the entire cycle," said California-based GOP strategist Jason Cabel Roe, pointing to the GOP-passed tax bill, in an interview last week. "They're going to look past whatever complaints they have with things happening in the White House or Washington, and focus more on how it affects their household bottom line."
It's just the latest twist in an already long political cycle, one that began with serious questions about Democrats' ability to channel grass-roots energy into actual votes and finished last year with a despondent GOP wondering how it lost big races in Virginia and deep-red Alabama.
Nine months before the midterms, top strategists on both sides of the aisle are struggling with the volatility of the political environment, but agree that a few core dynamics are driving the campaign trajectory: Trump's approval rating -- and that of his tax law -- are ticking up, the left is energized but will face a series of divisive primaries, and a spate of recent GOP retirements tilts in the Democrats' favor.
Here is McClatchy's look at where the most important mechanics of the midterms environment stand today, based on conversations with more than a dozen top political strategists.
-- Is economic growth a bulwark against progressive enthusiasm?
Republicans who have long worried about the potential for a midterms wipeout are now expressing cautious optimism that improving views of the signature Republican tax reform measure, as well as a strong economy, will help mitigate the myriad challenges confronting the GOP. The tax bill, passed late last year, has also energized the GOP base.
"This tax cut has been huge," said Beth Campbell, the Republican national committeewoman from Tennessee. "Huge."
Of course, there's no guarantee that the economy will still be humming in October, and just Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted. Yet even if the overall economic picture is strong, there is concern among some Republicans that Trump -- and his polarizing Twitter feed -- will knock GOP candidates off message and overshadow the tangible accomplishments they're hoping to tout.