Streetcar Line

Republicans Will Hold On

Election predictions, against the grain.

By 11.5.06

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When Congress convenes in January of 2007, Republicans will be elected both as Speaker of the House and as Senate Majority Leader.

The new Republican speaker, who will not be Dennis Hastert, will enjoy a margin of only one vote. But in the Senate, where Republicans currently control 55 of the 100 seats and where many pundits are now saying they teeter on the brink of losing their majority, the GOP instead will lose no more than two seats.

And Mr. Conventional Wisdom, who is the lackey of the mainstream media and the supposedly nonpartisan election "experts," again will have enough egg on his face to make omelets that feed multitudes.

Let's examine the Senate first, because it is easier to understand. It boils down to this: Democrats are trying to seize seats from states that traditionally vote Republican. Even in a bad year for Republicans, it is difficult for Democrats to overcome the triple advantages of incumbency, superior fundraising, and a population that usually leans rightward. Not only that, but the national economy -- which, when it is strong, usually boosts incumbents tremendously -- is arguably the strongest in the entire history of the world. (More on that a bit later.)

On the presidential level, Virginia and Montana almost always vote Republican, Missouri and Ohio usually do, and Tennessee does so more often than not. Pennsylvania, a state that tends to lean only a little leftward, has not elected a Democrat in a regularly scheduled Senate election since the 1970s. And in Rhode Island, a very liberal state, Democrats must overcome a habit of supporting three different generations of the (liberal Republican) Chafee family for statewide office.

Meanwhile, Democrats this year are defending several seats of their own that, except for the national anti-Republican trend, feature unique circumstances that should make them nervous.

Maryland has been trending a bit more conservative anyway, and this is the second straight election cycle where Maryland black leaders are expressing a serious dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party. With Republican nominee Michael Steele being a highly charismatic black man, Democrats have reason to fear his inroads into a normally Democratic constituency.

Washington state and Michigan, meanwhile, feature two of the least accomplished, least powerful members of the Senate -- respectively, Maria Cantwell and Debbie Stabenow. Many Washington state voters are still sore that the Democrats snatched the governorship two years ago in a still-disputed election, and many Michiganders are unhappy with what is arguably the worst state economy in the whole nation, which has occurred under Democratic state elected leaders.

And in New Jersey, appointed Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez is seen as ethically challenged, while Republican challenger Tom Kean Jr. is the namesake of the former governor who is probably the state's single most popular living (ex-)politician.

All of which means that under normal circumstances, Democrats this year would be battling uphill for the Senate. The abnormal circumstance of a highly unpopular "Republican war" does shift the odds in the Democrats' favor, but not so much that the other Republican advantages are irrelevant.

As this is being written, evidence points to serious pro-Republican trends in the races in Tennessee, Montana, Maryland and, catching up from way behind, Rhode Island. Missouri's superb GOP Sen. Jim Talent is hanging tough; Virginia's George Allen should edge past his opponent, the Washington Post; and Pennsylvania's conservative hero Rick Santorum is famous for being a strong closer while Democrat Bob Casey Jr. is known for having blown a huge lead in a previous statewide race.

So, to repeat, when the smoke clears, Republicans will have suffered no more than a net loss of two Senate seats.

NOW LET'S LOOK AT THE HOUSE. Before several resignations created open seats, Republicans had held 232 seats to the Democrats' (plus Socialist Bernie Sanders) 203. Pundits in the past week have been falling all over themselves to predict not just that Democrats would gain the net 15 seats needed for the majority, but a much larger number in an overwhelming "wave" election. And respected analyst Stuart Rothenberg is forecasting a partisan shift of 34-40 (!).

Balderdash.

Amidst all the liberal media's ill-disguised euphoria about horrible "generic" ballot numbers for Republicans, too many people are ignoring the fact that, just as in the Senate races, the Democrats are fighting on Republican terrain. Computer-aided gerrymandering has created a plethora of GOP-leaning seats. Incumbents still enjoy the advantages of having provided years of constituent service (not to mention pork, rancid though conservatives justly might think it). Most Republican incumbents also have enjoyed a big cash edge. And even in a year in which congressional approval ratings are at horrendously low levels, recent polls show that more than 60 percent of the public still approves of the job of their own representatives. Finally, by general agreement it is acknowledged that the overall quality of Democratic candidate recruitment this year was no better than fair-to-middling. There are more than a few races in which the same unimpressive Democratic candidates who lost big two years ago are challenging the same Republican incumbents who now are rated as endangered. Because the challengers are less than impressive, though, voters may in the end balk at voting for them over the better known and personally liked incumbents.

The fact is that the American electorate leans center-right, not center-left. Just last week a new CNN poll showed that 54 percent of Americans think government is too big and tries to do too much, versus only 37 percent who felt the opposite. And polls consistently show more Americans hold right-leaning cultural views than not. As the center-right party, therefore, the Republicans still enjoy an edge on the basic level of the electorate's overall world-view.

Penultimately, there are two GOP advantages that help Republicans fight against the otherwise toxic political environment. The first is that the public (according to a recent poll) is finally beginning to realize just how strong the economy is. With unemployment at a near-incredible low of 4.4 percent, inflation tame at 2.3 percent, personal net worth up, wages starting to rise, interest rates at levels that are by historical standards quite solid, home values at near-record highs, home ownership at near-record highs, the stock market at record highs while the percentage of the public owning stock is at near-record highs (more than 50%), and gasoline prices dropping, the economy is a true modern marvel -- especially when compared to the stagnant economies of western Europe, with some of those countries suffering unemployment rates above 10 percent.

Second, there is Karl Rove's vaunted organizational genius and the unparalleled voter turnout machine that he and Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman have built. In close race after close race, that turnout machine should prove the difference in favor of Republican candidates.

Finally, for both the House and the Senate, the events of the past week have all broken in favor of Republicans. First came the idiotic slur against our troops by Democratic standard-bearer John Kerry. Then came the new unemployment numbers, which are spectacular. Then came the conviction of Saddam Hussein. And all this on top of a New York Times story that had the unintended (unintended by the Times, that is) consequence of confirming that when we liberated Iraq, Saddam Hussein was within not much more than a single, short year of achieving nuclear fission capability.

All of this analysis, granted, has been at the macro level. Space does not permit a race-by-race analysis, but this author has indeed done such analysis at significant depth. That micro-analysis confirms the macro-analysis, namely that the House hangs right in the balance, but that it by no means will amount to an utter wipeout of Republicans. When all is said and done, come January, Republicans will indeed control the "people's House" by a single vote.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.