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Is the Republican Party in peril?

Conservative thinkers and political historians think the GOP could be at the end of its historic 40-year grasp on power.

Sen. John McCain and President Bush wave to supporters in Phoenix, Ariz. on May 27, 2008.

AP/Charles Dharapak/File

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The GOP opens its convention here Monday as a party in peril – hurricane or not.

Hobbled by an unpopular president, a disillusioned and divided base, and low poll ratings on almost every domestic issue, the party of Nixon and Reagan and Bush may well be at the end of a historic 40-year grasp on power, say conservative thinkers and political historians.

Republicans lost both houses of Congress in 2006. They were defeated in special elections this year in congressional districts that in some cases hadn't elected a Democrat since the days of Lyndon Johnson. And they are at risk of deeper losses on Capitol Hill in November.

Republican leaders in some states have struggled to recruit candidates for local office. GOP voter registrations are down. And there are signs of a generational shift that could play out over several election cycles: Nearly 60 percent of voters under 30 now identify themselves as Democrats, more than tripling the party's edge over the GOP in that age group since 2000, according to the Pew Research Center.

The man set to accept his party's nomination Thursday, John McCain, is a maverick disdained by the conservatives who turned Barry Goldwater's lonely cry against big government into a shrewd, sprawling, and well-funded movement. Whether Mr. McCain is the future of the party or a placeholder during a time of soul-searching hinges on the November election.

Cause for both hope and some hand-wringing among Republicans this year is that Americans like McCain far more than they do the party itself.

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