Posts Tagged ‘House of Representatives’

The Republican Wave is Building

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

With Labor Day being the traditional kickoff for election season, the prognosticators are out with their projections for the midterm elections. Two weeks ago, I linked to an interview with election expert Charlie Cook, this week Larry Sabato updated his Crystal Ball projections and Nate Silver has also recently updated his Senate Rankings. No one has any good news for the Democrats.

Both Cook and Sabato are predicting a Democratic takeover of the House this year. Silver has the Republicans picking up 6 to 7 seats in the Senate, but many have predicted that the losses could be greater and that the Senate is now in play.

While a complete analysis of why the Democrats are in such dire straits is beyond the scope of this post, here are the broad strokes and narratives I see. Let’s start with the structural issues: the party of the president almost invariably loses seats in the midterm elections and in bad economic times, voters tend to punish the incumbent party. Given that times are bad and Democrats are the incumbents, this isn’t good news for them. Also, somewhat ironically, the Democrats are a victim of the success that they had in the 2006 and 2008 elections: 53 out  of 253 Democratically held seats are in districts where Republicans were holding those seats five years ago. 48 Democratic representatives are running in districts that voted for John McCain (all but one of which voted for George Bush in 2004 as well). In addition, midterm election voters tend to be older, whiter and more Republican (none of which helps the Democrats).

Add to this mix a strong effort on the part of Democrats to push through their agenda, an agonizing long year in which coverage of the suasage making and payoff of every special interest that was involved in order to pass Health Care Reform was on full display while the country desperately wanted the Congress to focus on job creation, an economy that has stopped the bleeding but shows scant signs of creating enough jobs to make a dent in the unemployment numbers, the resurgence of the Republican right and the resulting  gap in enthusiasm that poll after poll has shown significantly favors the Republicans and you have a recipe for disaster.

Republicans need to pickup 39 net seats for a majority and Cook predicts a net gain of 35 to 45 seats by Republicans, “with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome.” His more recent comments indicate that the results could be significantly worse. Larry Sabato is predicting a 47 seat pickup.

With 435 House seats, it’s difficult to do a detailed analysis, but a look at the Senate forecasts gives a picture of where the country is right now. In what was once considered a prime opportunity for the Democrats in Pennsylvania, former Admiral and Congressman Joe Sestak has been running consistently behind financier and former Congressman Pat Toomey. As Al Hunt points out, while Specter was defending his country in the Iraq war, Toomey was selling derivatives, the complex instruments most responsible for the financial crash. Still, Toomey has led Sestak by a margin of over 5 points since mid-July and Nate Silver now rates this seat at an 88% chance that Toomey prevails.

In Colorado, similar dynamics are at play. When Tea Party candidate Ken Buck won the Republican primary, many people believed that he would be the next Sharron Angle, giving appointed Senator Michael Bennett a much better chance at the seat. Silver now ranks this seat at a 77% chance of Republican takeover.

In New Hampshire and Ohio, just a few months ago considered opportunities for Democrats to pick off Republican seats, Silver now rates the races  at 23% and 18% chances of Democratic pickups, respectively. Even Nevada is ranked by Silver as a 59% chance of an Angle win (which seems generous to Angle given the ability of Nevada voters to choose “None of the Above” for the seat).

As Al Hunt notes, the Democrats’ Senate firewall consists of the generally reliable Democratic states of California, Washington and Wisconsin, that are in play this year. Increasingly, it looks like the outcomes in these three states may determine whether the Democrats retain control of the Senate or whether we will be looking at Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Cook has commented that everything would have to go the Democrats way in order for the Republicans to gain 10 seats, but this has not been uncommon during wave elections. Also, if the Republicans come within a one vote margin, keep an eye on Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (who generally votes like a Republican anyway) and Joe Lieberman (who has historically delighted in sticking his finger in the eye of other Democrats). If either of these guys decide to switch parties after a tight margin, they could hand the Republicans the Senate.  

Ironically, although recent polls have shown the Republicans holding an unprecedented 10% lead in the generic polling for Congress, those same polls consistently show that the Republican party is less trusted than the Democratic party. Charlie Cook puts it well when he explains that it is possible for the Republicans to be winning even though they are not as trusted because the election “isn’t about them.” It’s about the Democrats. 

My take on the mood of the country is that many of the American people have seen what one party rule by the Democrats looks like and they’ve rejected it. Although they don’t like the Republicans any more than the Democrats, they figure, with Obama having veto power, the Republicans won’t be able to screw things up as badly as they might be able to with a Republican president. Given the level of disgust they have, they’re willing to take a chance.

This week the Democrats New York Times detailed Democratic plans to concentrate money in about two dozen vulnerable Democratic sates and let the remaining Democrats fend for themselves, effectively trying to create a firewall that would allow them to narrowly maintain power. Expect to see similar attempts in the California, Wisconsin, Washington and possibly Illinois Senate seats.

Certainly it’s possible for the Democrats fortunes to change in the next few months, but it’s hard to see what the catalyst for that change would be. The debate over the Bush Tax Cuts should be illuminating, but it’s hard to see it as a game changer. Campaigns generally help to focus people’s attention, clarify their viewpoints and make them remember why they voted for someone in the first place, but if the public has already written the Democrats off, then changing their minds will be a tall order.

This could get ugly.

The Irony of 2010

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Last week, Robert Gibbs set off a firestorm when he said what everyone already knows on Meet the Press: the Democrats could lose the House his year. This set off howls of protest from House members who feel that they have put their careers on the line for President Obama and that he has not shown the same level of commitment to them.

Meanwhile, prognosticators are reading the tea leaves for signs of how the electorate will respond in 2010 and whether this election will resemble the wave elections of 1994 and 1996 or the smaller, but significant, losses of the Reagan Republicans in 1982.

The irony of this all is that a favorable outcome for their respective Congressional parties may be a liability for the both President Obama and Republican presidential candidates in 2012.

Let’s stipulate up front that the loss of the House would be a clear setback for Obama and would put his agenda going forward in peril. Losing the House could also have long term implications for Democrats, since incumbency brings inherent advantages (such as a re-election rate that hovers in the 96% range) and having power in the present significantly increases a party’s chance of having power in the future.

For Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats have been extremely helpful in pushing forward his agenda. Although he is not reaping the benefits in the polls, he has been remarkably successful at enacting policy. In less than two years, he has passed a budget that sets new priorities for the country, as well as the trifecta of a stimulus plan, health care reform and financial reform. A (much watered down) energy bill is on deck. The House of Representatives has been a key part of this effort, moving first on all four issues and providing a liberal push as counterweight to the slow moving, inherently conservative Senate. To lose control of the House would be a dramatic blow to Obama’s ability to enact new programs going forward.

On the Republican side, there is probably no one as reviled as Nancy Pelosi. The Republican faithful would like nothing more than to take Pelosi and Reid out of power and hand the Democrats a historic defeat.

But any careful observer can see that that taking or keeping control of the House may not in the best long term interests of Obama or of the Republican hopefuls in 2012.

For Obama, a Republican House would provide a useful foil for him in making his 2010 case for re-election, just as Newt Gingrich was for Bill Clinton. With the defeat of most moderate Republicans over the past five years, the party now consists of mostly hard line libertarians, extreme social conservatives and a gang of formerly independent statesmen who have been so cowed by the Tea Party that they act just like the Rand Paul wing of the party. In recent polling, only 32% of Americans believed that the Democrats in Congress could be trusted to make the right decisions. The only group who polled lower were the Republicans at 26%. The entire key to the 2010 elections (and by extension the 2012 elections) will be to make the contest a choice of two competing ideologies instead of a referendum on Obama, Pelosi and Reid.

For Republican presidential candidates, the situation is equally clear. Running in 2012 against Pelosi, Reid and Obama would be a much easier campaign to frame than one in which Republicans had any measure of control or claim to responsibility for the situation.

In addition, there is plenty of evidence that Congressional Republicans are not quite ready for prime time. Every other time John Boehner opens his mouth he says something that shows how out of touch he is. For the past two years, their policy has been based on one thing: saying no to everything proposed by Obama, Pelosi and Reid. They complain incessantly about Democratic proposals, but didn’t have anything particularly serious to offer on the major issues of the day (health care, financial regulation, energy). They regularly bemoan deficit projections, but the closest thing they have to a plan is conservative wunderkind Paul Ryan’s Roadmap, a serious plan to balance the budget to be sure, but one that relies on privatizing both Social Security and Medicare, as well as raising taxes on the middle class while slashing them for those with higher incomes (all policies that have found very little support among the American people) At last count, Ryan’s Roadmap was endorsed by nine Congressmen.

Perhaps the bigger issue is that, beginning next year, the focus of the country will most likely be on developing a long term deficit reduction plan. As discussed here before, the bi-partisan Simpson/Bowles Budget Deficit Reduction Commission will release its findings at the end of the year. In it will be a plan to cut deficits to $550 billion by 2015.  This plan should shift the conversation significantly. While their will be a debate on the specific plan, the report should make clear that the current path is unsustainable, that taxes and revenues need to increase and that budgets will need to be cut. This will be an opportunity for Obama to move to the center, provide a plan to decrease the projected long term deficits and refashion himself into the pragmatic candidate that he ran as in 2008.

If the Democrats do maintain control, it will be an opportunity for them to reclaim the mantle of fiscal responsibility that they have lost over the past two years and do it in a way that preserves Democratic priorities. But this process will be difficult to enact because of the fractious nature of the Democratic party, what will surely be smaller margins in the House and the complete lack of a credible partner in the Republicans.

On the other hand, if the Republicans take the House this year they will be forced to provide their own alternate plan to balance the budget. Given American’s historical aversion to sacrifice and the slim menu of choices available, this plan is likely to be unpopular and Obama can take advantage of the contrast to frame a choice between two competing visions of the country. If Republicans try to compromise and implement some real austerity programs with Obama’s support, this could be win-win for both parties, but it will make it much more difficult for Republicans to argue that Obama is a dangerous socialist. If, on the other hand, there is a long lasting standoff, Obama will be able to turn up the heat with the bully pulpit, returning to the stump to campaign against the vision of the party in power.

In the meantime, the fight for the House goes on and you can expect to see Obama and the Republican presidential hopefuls giving it their all.

But don’t be surprised if there are a few people in the White House (or in the Romney campaign) who don’t shed too many tears if their side loses.