Josh Kraushaar at Politico:
After an August recess marked by raucous town halls, troubling polling data and widespread anecdotal evidence of a volatile electorate, the small universe of political analysts who closely follow House races is predicting moderate to heavy Democratic losses in 2010.
Some of the most prominent and respected handicappers can now envision an election in which Democrats suffer double-digit losses in the House — not enough to provide the 40 seats necessary to return the GOP to power but enough to put them within striking distance.
Top political analyst Charlie Cook, in a special August 20 update to subscribers, wrote that “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and congressional Democrats.”
“Many veteran congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats,” he wrote.
At the mid-August Netroots Nation convention, Nate Silver, a Democratic analyst whose uncannily accurate, stat-driven predictions have made his website FiveThirtyEight.com a must read among political junkies, predicted that Republicans will win between 20 and 50 seats next year. He further alarmed an audience of progressive activists by arguing that the GOP has between a 25 and 33 percent chance of winning back control of the House.
Is Silver being an alarmist or is there really a 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 chance that the GOP can pull off a shocker?
If history is any guide, Nate may have something there. Opposition gains in off year elections are a tradition in American politics with the party out of power winning back seats in 10 of the last 12 such elections. (The average gain has been about 13 seats).
But realistically, there would have to be a huge backlash – even bigger than 1994 – for Republicans to regain control of the House. The re-election rate for modern gerrymandered congressional districts tops 98% and the GOP would have to knock that percentage down to 90% in order to gain back the House.
A tall order, that. But the Democrats did it in 2006. And given the volatility of the current political climate, it is not beyond imagining, although Silver’s estimate of Republican chances to regain control is not shared by other seasoned pros.
I think that Nate is being deliberately provocative. The stars would have to align just right for a GOP takeover of the House to materialize. A perfect storm of failed health care reform, a double dip recession, and perhaps higher than expected inflation could combine to cause the kind of collapse in the political fortunes of Democrats that would give the GOP control of the House. I would place the chances of this occurring somewhere between “Impossible” and “Highly Improbable” – say, from zero to 5%.
The political climate next year could influence the Left’s fortunes on the issue. It’s early days, but indications are that the midterms will be tough for Democrats. The Politico has some observations on that, pointing out that historic trends “point to Republican House gains … particularly after facing two brutal election cycles where the party lost seats in every region and even in some of the most conservative states in the nation.”
If de-stimulus, cap-and-trade, cash for clunkers, and a health-care takeover, et al., are enough to get out more conservative voters and peel away some independents and moderate Democrats, a ballot initiative legalizing gay marriage is going to be a tough sell in 2010, even in deep blue California.
We are more than a year away from the 2010 elections, but the cumulative impact of this data will be felt by critical swing-state senators, vulnerable House members, and nearly every freshman lawmakers. If Obama is now perceived as a drag on their own election prospects, it’s every lawmaker for himself. Forget about “winning one for Teddy”; they have to save themselves.
The result may be a health-care debate that stalls before it starts. Perhaps the safest course is a slower, more deliberative one with full-blown hearings. That’s what some of the lawmakers from less secure districts and states are urging. Obama might do well to listen to the nervous congressmen and senators from his own party—or he’ll have a lot fewer of them for the last two years of his term.
A savvy friend thinks 2010 will be a repeat of 1994. It’s obviously too early to say that, but these numbers can’t be encouraging for the Administration.