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May. 4 2010 - 3:22 pm | 4,422 views | 2 recommendations | 8 comments

4 reasons Democrats will hold the House

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 13:  (L-R) House Majorit...

Everyone agrees that congressional Democrats will lose seats this November, but lose the majority? Democratic strategist Ed Kilgore concludes that they might. Reporter David Chalian of ABC News concludes that they might. And Stu Rothenberg concludes that they might. Others, such as Jonathan Chait, allude to the possibility of it happening. Unlike certain Republicans and conservatives, these people cannot be accused of projection or wish fulfillment.

The reasons for the Democrats’ troubles are legion. Swing voters are mad about their loss of disposable income. The young voters and blacks who came out in huge numbers in 2008 for Obama are unlikely to duplicate the feat in 2010 for their congressman. Seniors are mad at the Democrats for messing with their Medicare. And tea party activists are mad – really mad — at the Democrats for legislating like Democrats.

But the chances that this witches’ brew will doom the party this fall strikes me as unlikely. Barring a national calamity or Republican implosion, Democrats will likely hold on. Think about it. Democrats would need to lose 40 House seats to relinquish the majority, a large number by anyone’s estimation. Losing that many seats in an election cycle takes more than a lousy economy, wide distrust of Congress, and unpopular legislation. Losing that many seats takes incompetent or pathetic party leadership. And whatever you might say about Obama, Reid, and Pelosi, they are not politically incompetent.

Consider the last two times that a political party lost control of the House. In 2006, Republicans forfeited the majority in large part because their leaders abdicated responsibility. They failed to discipline a House Republican who sexually targeted teenage congressional pages. They called Congress into session only rarely, an acknowledgment to independents that they had no real legislative agenda. And they gave their voters little reason to come to the polls on election day. Those reasons were arguably as important as the unpopularity of the Iraq war for tossing Republicans out of power.

In 1994, Democrats lost their majority in large part because their party leaders were politically inept. They depressed their base by failing to pass health-care reform. And they fired up the Republican base by enacting new gun-control laws, allowing gays to serve in the military, and adding to the deficit. There is no doubt that conservative talk radio also helped fuel the Republican resurgence, especially in Southern districts that were already in political transition. But Democratic leaders like Clinton, Foley, and Mitchell violated the first rule of the political class: Being dumb is OK, being unable to count is not.

Two elections is a small sample size, and some hidden factor may help put Republicans back in the majority. But as of this date in the year of our Lord, I conclude that Democrats will keep their majority for three reasons:

Democratic Party leaders have not committed any large self-inflicted wounds:

Certainly they have been tempted to do so. On cultural issues, their base sought indirect federal funding of abortion without limit and seeks to make D.C. a state while keeping the district’s restrictive gun-control laws and to overturn the military’s ban on gays serving openly. But leadership stepped in and have squelched those possibilities. Democratic cultural conservatives would have more reason bolt the party in November, while Republican cultural conservatives will have less reason to turn out to vote.

As for potential scandals, Democratic leaders have dampened those. They could have let Rep. Charles Rangel keep his seat as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. They could have defended Rep. Eric Massa as a wayward or misunderstood politician. Instead, heeding the advice of party moderates, they kicked Rangel to the sidelines; and heeding common sense, they booted Massa.

Democratic leaders have helped themselves:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has outraised and outspent its GOP counterpart. You didn’t read that wrong. The DCCC has bested the RCCC. For all of House Democrats’ political woes, they are still raking in the cash, or comparatively so. The Dems’ cash advantage will come in handy. Political scientists Alan Abramowitz, Matthew Gunning, and Brad Gunning found that the high cost of political campaigns was one of the two key reasons that the number of competitive congressional seats over the past four decades had declined.

The GOP has helped Democrats:

The Memphis Grizzlies’ trade of Kwame Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers for Pau Gasol may be the greatest gift one opponent has bestowed upon another.. Arizona’s recent law that seeks to clamp down on illegal immigration was not as big of a donation, but it’s in the conversation. Yes, Arizona’s law enjoys the support of most Americans, but few voters will head to the polls to express their pleasure with Arizona for doing so. Instead, Hispanics and more than a few white liberals will come out to register their distinct unpleasure with Arizona.

Democratic constituencies are weakened but not demoralized:

Young people, blacks, and single females perhaps are far less likely to vote in mid-term elections. But the party’s white upper-class voters aren’t. According to Gallup, highly educated voters are rarin’ to go to the polls. And unlike in 1994, when Democrats could not even put health care reform up for a vote, the party’s educated, suburban voters have little reason to be deflated this time around.

The Rothenberg Political Report, as usual, has an incisive list of those 79 House districts in play. As of now, Democrats strike me as less likely to lose the vast majority of those seats deemed as tossups, tossup/tilt Republican, lean Republican, and Republican favored. This scenario would result in Democrats losing 30 seats. In addition, Democrats are likely to lose a handful of those deemed “lean Democratic,” especially those seats in Ohio and Indiana, which are moving toward the Republicans. That would net the Democrats a loss of 35 seats.

Democrats might be heartened or rejoice in this analysis. But they should also beware. As weak of a field as the possible Republican presidential nominees look today, they will look a lot better running against Democratic-controlled Washington in 2012.


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  1. collapse expand

    One can only hope that the Dems lose both the House then the Senate and finally in 2012 we send Barry out of the White House. What a pathetic cast of characters. Mark, This is just the starting point for the Republican momentem. Dems have lost the Independent VOTE. I know you would like Barry Obama’s new TV add directed toward the Young, the Latinos & women to resonate, but I doubt it. As a Catholic I pray we never see a line up like this again in Washington. RCP has Barry’s approval at under 50%. Now add the fact that 71% do not trust Congress and 56% think we are on the wrong track…well Mark, you do the math. See you in November. Just a few months away

  2. collapse expand

    It’s WAY to soon to tell what will happen. Anything can change in a 2 month period of time – let alone 6 months.

    It will be interesting to see how Obama can gain back those that he and Democrats have lost. Even this week there was another $5 billion going towards stabilizing a government program. Were people happy about this? The user comments spoke loudly: people are furious about endless government spending. So, Obama and Democrats will only make things worse if they try to buy votes between now and November. And, Obama can’t continue to anger his base. Many ASSUMED Obama was their friend. But, they weren’t paying attention very closely. He’s doing things his way and disappointing many. I’m not sure how he can turn this around unless he can fool everyone again with his “hope” and “change” arguments. He’ll have to resort to “fear” and “obstructionist Republicans” arguments vs. inspiring people with hope and change.

    Like I said, too soon to tell. But, there are many obstacles that Obama and Democrats are facing. But, in 4 months things could look 10,000% different.

  3. collapse expand

    I think the bad thing about your prediction is it is BEST case.
    Which should scare the $&^$ out of the Dems. They will lose at LEAST 35 seats?

    I think it is more what another author here quoted from Charlie Cook
    ” … keep in mind that 84 of their current House members represent districts won by President Bush in 2004 or John McCain in 2008.

    A whopping 48 of those Democrats — eight more than the size of their party’s majority — are from districts that voted for both Bush and McCain.”

    Add in another 6-12 seats that didn’t go for either Bush or McCain and you have 90-96 … with the Republicans only needing to win 44% of those.

    My personal prediction? Watch the Babara Boxer election closely.
    I could see Boxer winning and Illinois being lost. I see no way that Boxer loses and you win Illinois.

    This is pretty much true for the house and quite a few potential Senate seats.
    If it looks like Boxer is going down, there is a tidal wave coming. If Boxer is hanging on by the skin of her teeth … chances are you are talking a 5 seat majority in the house, and 2-3 in the Senate.

    Though to be honest neither of those are “working” majorities.

    And it only gets worse.
    In 2012 Senate – 20 Democrat seats to 13 Republican. And only Scott Brown could be seen as vulnerable.
    In 2014 Senate – 20 Democrat seats to 13 Republican. And these are the safest of safe to have survived the tsunami of 2008.

    Which means in all likelihood the Republicans gain 3-4 seats as the balance of power normalizes in BOTH of the following elections.

    With a 7 Senate seat pickup, that would give the Rerpublicans control in 2012 and expand their control in 2014.

    The good news will be that the Dems should pick up in 2016 most of what they lose this cycle ( normalizing again ).
    The bad news for the President will be so what? He won’t be president anymore and odds say it will be a Republican.

    Furthermore, Obama will have been seen to lose Senate seats in EVERY election cycle of his presidency ( if he wins again ), spending the entire second term basically reduced to veto or no veto ( not his style of management ).

    If the Republicans gain 7 seats or more Senate seats, expect Obama to claim he changed America in the ways that matter and not run for President in 2012.

  4. collapse expand

    “And whatever you might say about Obama, Reid, and Pelosi, they are not politically incompetent.”

    I would take issue with this assertion. You cannot claim that the Lousiana Purchase and Nebraska deals were politically competent moves. Nancy Pelosi makes one gaffe after another and Harry Reid is about as charismatic as driftwood.

    Passing health care reform in the way that they did, and given how unpopular the measure continues to be, may go down as one of the most politically incompetent legislative acts in history.

    This comment is particularly hilarious…

    “Losing that many seats in an election cycle takes more than a lousy economy, wide distrust of Congress, and unpopular legislation.”

    It only took 2 out of 3 in 1994 to lose MORE seats than this. In your very description of 1994 you allude to the unpopular legislation and the wide distrust of Congress.

    Tell me, how competent can a Congressional Leadership be when their collective approval ratings are in the teens?

    As for your allusions to Arizona, this is laughably misguided.

    First of all, many prominent Republicans have denounced this bill.

    Secondly, there is no strong evidence that VOTING Hispanics are overwhelmingly opposed to this legislation. The polling in Arizona suggests that legal Hispanics in the state are somewhat split on the issue.

    Finally, this is an issue that is more or less confined to Arizona. Pro-Amnesty Hispanic voters largely reside in Democrat districts already. The Republicans that need to be against this bill already have come out against it, and it is not on the ballot in any case.

    With regard to fundraising, you are simply observing the fact that Democrats are the overwhelming incumbents, meaning there are fewer meaningful primaries. The big donors generally do not come out until the parties have selected their candidates. This fact will favor Democrats because 60% of their candidates have already been selected vs. 40% for the GOP.

    The final factor that you seem to leave out, perhaps out of blindness, is the organizing power that the Tea Party movement has developed. This did not exist in 1994.

    The constant smears against activism that the Democrats have trotted out has only galvanized the opposition. It has also clearly solidified the view of the Democrats as the party of the arrogant establishment.

    …still amazed that you consider Pelosi and Reid competent. Amazing.

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    Mark Stricherz is the author of Why the Democrats are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People's Party (Encounter Books, 2007). He was born in San Francisco in 1970 and raised in the Bay Area. He graduated from Santa Clara University and the University of Chicago (M.A. in Social Sciences, '97). In between, he worked, as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, for an inner-city housing agency in Baton Rouge, La. His work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, The New Republic, and The Weekly Standard, among other publications. He, his wife, and two daughters live in the Washington, D.C. region.

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