2010 vs 1994

1994-USNews-Charge-Right-BrigadeI agree with Josh Marshall that the parallels between 1994, when the Republicans shocked the world by taking over both Houses of Congress two years into the presidency of a charismatic Democrat, and next year are “significantly overstated.”   He’s right, I think, that “The main cause of the Dems 1994 rout was structural.”

He argues, correctly, that “Between the early 1970s and the early 1990s an entire region — the South — moved decisively from the Democratic to the Republican column. Something similar happened in the inter-Mountain West and in border state parts of the Midwest. But the full impact of the transformation was hidden by incumbency and the stretch of Republican presidential rule from 1980 to 1992” and notes that “Many of these folks realized this and retired in advance of the 1994 election. Age and a strong Republican redistricting effort in 1990-92 led to even more retirements. Looking back in retrospect, what’s surprising about 1994 is not the result. It is the fact that very, very few people saw it coming, even in the final days before the election.”

It took a series of scandals among key House Democrats, a wildly unpopular Democratic incumbent (who righted the ship in reaction), and radical changes in campaign finance regulations which incentivized a lot of the old geezers to take the money and not run.  We don’t really have any of these things this go-round.

Josh’s analysis:

The key problem for Dems isn’t unpopularity. It’s a highly apathetic Democratic electorate facing an extremely energized Tea Party GOP. Still, there is one parallel. Just as in 1994 you had dozens of Democratic seats that couldn’t withstand real partisan contention, the huge victories in 2006 and 2008 have created a situation where not a few members of the Democratic House Caucus are sitting in what are essentially Republican districts. Perhaps not overwhelmingly so — but enough that they’ll be hard to hold in a tough year for Democrats.

Indeed, Republicans really should have taken back a large number of House seats in 2008.  The only reasons they didn’t were the incredible backlash created by the Bush presidency and the boost in turnout created by Barack Obama’s coattails.  Neither of those will exist in 2010.

GOP voters will be energized in 2010 and the majority of voting Independents will likely be in an anti-incumbent mood next November.  The combination of structural pressures — lots of retiring Democrats, lots of unestablished Democrats in Republican districts — and the sorry state of the economy should lead to substantial Republican gains.

But there does not seem to be a Contract for America moment emerging, either.  While Newt Gingrich took too much credit for the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” it’s nonetheless the case that the party advanced a positive agenda that helped nationalize the election and sway some voters.   The Tea Party movement, by contrast, is mostly negative.  Simply being angry about the status quo isn’t enough to create a landslide.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Congress, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    But there does not seem to be a Contract for America moment emerging, either.

    Or, worse, if the present Republican leadership were to produce their equivalent it would very likely produce the opposite of their desired result.

    There is a reality that seems to be lost on both political parties. 60% of Americans self-identify as “not Republicans” and 55% of Americans identify themselves as “not Democrats”. That should be giving the partisans pause but it’s having the opposite effect, giving them a feeling of power.

  2. Herb says:

    “The combination of structural pressures — lots of retiring Democrats, lots of unestablished Democrats in Republican districts — and the sorry state of the economy should lead to substantial Republican gains.”

    I’m not going to disagree with that, but I think it’s a sad commentary on the Republican platform.

    I think some more time in the wilderness would do them good. 2012 might even be too early. Republicans are too enraptured by Sarah Palin, Tea Party protests, and birth certificates right now to do anything but win elections. And if George W Bush taught us anything, there’s more to it than just winning elections.

  3. Gerry W. says:

    Well, here is a start on a contract with America.

    1. Need to reduce the size of government. The only way to do that is to have commissions and take it away from congress. Give it back to congress and go with the recommendations. This gives the politicians an “out” and excuse to cut spending.

    2. Social agendas like abortion and gay marriage can be left to the states. Stop playing games on judges, etc. It is a waste of time.

    3. Get rid of failed ideology, neocons, militarism, fascism, laissez-faire, and religionism. We saw the far right for 8 years and it ruins the country. Of course this gets rid of your Southern base, but you lost the Midwest as jobs left the country.

    4. Trickle down can only work if you recognize that it is not a solution to problem solving. That is, trickle down does not reach the bottom 20% or 30% of the population. This is where you have problems with small towns that lost manufacturing (and I should know, as I see it), this is the uneducated and the blue collar jobs that left the country.

    Invest in your country, in your people, and in the future. What we saw is our jobs leave the country, our money to Iraq, and the neglect of our country. (laissez-faire).

    5. Invest in your country: That is energy independence. You do everything from drilling to nuclear plants, to alternative energy for security and for jobs. A new air traffic control system would give airlines to fly more direct routes, which means fuel savings. The money saved would go for new aircraft and that would create jobs.

    6. Invest in your people: Mandatory vocational training. Everyone should have a skill by the time he graduates. Or at least have a consoler direct the student to the right direction. You will need an educated society to deal with globalization.


    7. Invest in the future. That is in all sciences and stop using religion to stop embryonic stem cell research. You do all the innovation you can. You also can maximize federal research grants and invest money into universities and businesses to create new researches and jobs. Right now there is no “new” jobs to go to.


    Capitalism is not perfect. It is not one size fits all. There are gaps with any economic plan. It is just not trickle down and ignoring our problems. You deal with them.

    8. Elect a president that understands economics. Someone like Alan Mulally of Ford. Someone who is trained for the job. And I see no politician at this time that fits the bill.

    So this is a start. Unfortunately, they don’t listen in Washington and we will see more malaise.

  4. Bill H says:

    Overlooked, I think, is an overwhelming disgust with Congress as a whole, and a rising sentiment to simply dump the incumbent regardless of party. So far that has mostly been “they are all bad, but my guy is good, so everybody else should go, but I’m going to vote for mine,” but that may finally be changing. The behavior of that body, its transparent indentured servitude to corporate interests, and its increasing inability to function at all, may finally be coming home to roost as its membership has become so arrogant that they have no longer even found it necessary to conceal their corruption.

  5. There are several problems with Marshall´s arguments:

    1-) In fact, most of Republican´s 1994 wins were located outside, not inside the South. Washington State was the place where they lost most seats.

    2-) Most of the Southern Democrats in the time in fact were first elected to National office in the 1980´s. In fact, in 1986 the Democrats regained control of the Senate mostly due to the South.

    3-) In fact, the problem of the “apathetic Democratic Electorate” is due to problems affecting the whole electorate. Hispanics, young people and Blacks – three key groups on Obama´s Election – are the most affected by unemployment.

    It´s true that the key factors are different – you don´t have a strong Republican leadership – but the problem is that Democrats are more worried with their personal agenda than with people´s problem. That´s very damaging. The economy´s was in better shape in 1994.

    They should remember that poster that James Carville put on Bill Clinton´s Election HQ.

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    We are 11 months away from the election. Lots can happen. The current trends are for the republicans and away from the democrats. Check your time line of 1994, now is not when a “contract” comes out. Look at the dynamics of the polls. Beyond excited GOP and depressed democrats, the bigger issue is the independents are swinging away from the dems. Obama ran as a blank slate moderate whom everyone could project what they wanted to see in him. He is governing as a far left liberal, except in the war. Just as there were some gop who were swept away in 2006 and 2008 that weren’t expected, unless something radical happens to improve the dems chances, we will see long time dem office holders go under in 2010.

    Historically speaking, the country is overdue for a third party movement. Lots of structural inhibitors (not least in how things are set up with the election laws) have kept an effective third party from forming. But the pressures for that are likely to manifest in other ways.

  7. Highlander says:

    Based on 30 plus congressional and senate races I have been involved in,I would say James has about the correct analysis at this point in the cycle.

    However the election will definitely be a reality check for Obama and his congressional vassals. Maybe that’s good or in the long run bad depending on where you stand.

  8. anjin-san says:

    It will probably come down to the economy. If it continues to improve and we start adding jobs, the Democrats should be fine. If not, it will cost them.

  9. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin, just how is the economy better? Guess you don’t remember the Bush years of growth and prosperity, but then you will deny, deny, deny. Just check out the unemployment numbers. I don’t know what universe you reside in but in mine, people are tired of government spending. The people didn’t want the stimulus. They don’t want Obamacare and they sure do not want cap and tax. I bet you believe we exhale pollution. I know you do.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    If it continues to improve and we start adding jobs

    I think we need to define our terms carefully. Last month, for example, the economy only improved in the sense that it declined less rapidly. 11,000 jobs were lost rather than a quarter million. I doubt that will be enough to make the difference for incumbent Democrats.

  11. Gerry W. says:


    It was 8 years of nothing. The tax cuts were for the here and now. It did not do anything for our future. Those tax cuts are not helping us now. Bush got away with it by making things look good while he was in office. We saw 8 years of our jobs going overseas, our money going to Iraq, and our country neglected.

    A president or a CEO of a company thinks 10 years or 20 years ahead. All Bush did was increase deficits and debt and we have 2 wars to contend with.

    I did not see any increase of jobs in Ohio. I saw 3 factories close in my town of 16,000 people and we lost 2000 jobs. This was during Bush’s term.

    Now we have long term problems. Those problems are personal and credit card debt, a low dollar, possible inflation/stagflation in the future, it was stay the course and nothing done, 2 wars, a banking crisis, a housing crisis, an auto crisis, and globalization.

    The tax cuts do not solve problems. It was a “guns and butter” economics and the same is true for Obama. We saw this with LBJ and it was 15 years of inflation/stagflation.

    The best thing for republicans to come up with is to create jobs. And you can only create jobs by investing in our country, in our people, and in the future, in which I have talked about above. This is because globalization is taking our jobs. Cities and states are going broke and all they have to reach for is extension of unemployment benefits, cash for clunkers, and casinos for every state. We cannot go on like this. And you have to ask yourself, what widgets can we make here that they can’t make in China. I am tired of the ignorance and arrogance in Washington. Their policies are not working for us whether it is democrat or republican. I view the republicans worse as they are supposed to know better. They are the party that is supposed to understand economics and all they showed was failed ideologies, ignorance, and arrogance.

    And if a person is lucky enough to find another job, it will be less than what he had before. We see the destruction of the middle class with globalization and it is 2 to 3 billion people cheap laborers that will take our jobs and we have not prepared for it.

    People don’t mind government spending if it works. 8 years of our jobs going overseas, our money to Iraq, and the neglect of our country and infrastructure does not work. Stay the course does not work. Tax cuts that do not fix the problems of the lower 20% to 30% of the population do not work. Globalization and free trade and doing nothing about it does not work. Now, can someone manage our country?

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    A president or a CEO of a company thinks 10 years or 20 years ahead.

    Do you know any real CEO’s of actual companies?

  13. James Joyner says:

    Do you know any real CEO’s of actual companies?

    My reaction as well. I suppose “CEOs” who are their own employer think further ahead than those who serve at the leisure of a board of directors. But even entrepreneurs aren’t thinking a decade plus down the road.

  14. Herb says:

    Zels, you’re funny as always. “The Bush years of growth and prosperity?” The first years of Bush’s first term were (objectively) NOT periods of growth and prosperity.

    “I don’t know what universe you reside in but in mine, people are tired of government spending.”

    I know for a fact that I don’t live in the same universe as you, because in the world I live in, people are tired of a lot of things. ATM fees, transaction fees, ballooning insurance premiums, horrible customer service, bad food. Some people are tired of government spending, yes, but some of us think the government should spend more on some things and less on other things.

    Most of us don’t have problems with government spending in general, because we know that much of that spending is necessary to maintain our way of life. We’d prefer not to waste money, but that’s only sensible.

    What’s NOT sensible is this foolish idea that every penny the government spends is wasted.

  15. Jim says:

    I think most of us can agree that unless the economy vastly improves, it will be easier to win office as a Republican than a Democrat in 2010.

  16. Gerry W. says:

    So you think the CEO of Boeing and other companies don’t look years down the road? If you don’t, you go broke.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand how to run a country. The old tried and true ways are the best. And that is you invest in your country, in your people, and in the future. We have seen neoconism, corporate fascism, militarism, laissez-faire, religionism, trickle up, trickle down, and whatever else political parties want to hinge on. And none of these ism’s can run a country. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the future in globalization. We have seen some 30 years of it starting with Japan. They took most of our electronics, steel, and autos. China took our textiles and they will take more and also other countries. And yet, no one in Washington sees the severity of it. We will have to lose our standard of living and that has been happening a few years now. There is no jobs where I live. So some idiot can talk of tax cuts in Washington and it means nothing here. You can talk of small business and it means nothing here as the factories have moved out. So who has an answer? I have not heard of one. It is the same o same o. Romney may come close, but we know he will put religion in government and he has no answers to globalization. Gingrich comes close but he comes with baggage and has no answers to globalization, and would put religion in government. That is all on the republican side. On the democrat side, I don’t know of anyone. They are all caught up with their politics and it does us no good.

  17. Dave Schuler says:

    I notice you didn’t answer the question. I’ll take that as a “No”.

  18. Gerry W. says:

    Never said I knew any CEO’s. But they look forward to keep one step ahead of the competition. Maybe there is a misunderstanding.

    We know we have a baby boom generation retiring. We know that we have a country and its citizens relying heavily on government and not as much with China and other countries. That is their advantage. So we have to work harder to keep our present standard of living. And actually we are losing our standard of living.

    We know we have to invest in our country. We know we will need more electricity. We know we will have cars running on batteries and North Korea is further ahead of us in batteries.

    We know we need an updated air traffic control system and that will advance our air travel.

    We know we will have to have an educated society to have jobs of the future and with globalization.

    We know we need more science. And you cannot use religion to stop embryonic stem cell research. Singapore has advanced past us in embryonic stem cell research.

    If we would have done some of these thing 5 years ago, we would be better off today. But today, we have an uneducated society where factories have closed. Today, we are behind in sciences and technology. And we already know that with the financial situation we are in, that we will experience years of high unemployment.

    I don’t think it is that hard to look 10 years down the road. It may not be specific, but we know what direction we have to go. And with that direction, with more science, there will be more possibilities. If we get rid of the old, then we have to go to the new. And at this time, there are no new jobs to go to. Why? Because we piddled around with tax cuts without any other plan, war, and useless ideology.

  19. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Gerry, there is a great deal of difference between practicing religion and exercising morals one gets from the practice of religion. Something you are in short supply of. Without the moral underpinnings which have come, historically, from religious practice. Even the code of Hammurabi had its basis in religion. You are either born with rights or you must obtain privilege from the Prince. Butt heads like you are on the wrong side of history. Our current President has increased the national debt more in 10 months than Bush did in 8 years. Put that in you bong and smoke it.

    You state Bush spent wildly. I would like to point out to you congress controls the purse. From 06 on that was in the democrats court.

  20. Gerry W. says:

    We saw the deficits and debt well before the democrats came into office. Bush and now Obama is practicing a “guns and butter” economics. LBJ did this and it caused over 15 years of inflation/stagflation. Obama can’t help it on war as this was given to him. He could have backed off on the healthcare issue.

    You talk about the national debt, but Bush was handed a surplus from Clinton and Gingrich. Certainly we did not have the problems that we have now. It is not surprising where the deficit and debt is. And I would say that Bush handed off a debt that went from 5 trillion to 10 trillion dollars and a yearly deficit of around 500 billion dollars. Now we can add up the problems. The bailouts of the banks, this had to be done to prevent a depression, and maybe you don’t agree with this. The bailout of the auto companies and I think this had to be done, unless you want to add more to the already rising unemployment rates. The extension of unemployment benefits due to the deep recession and the factories that closed down and went overseas. The cities and states struggling as they lose the jobs. The neglect of the infrastructure. We have two wars to contend with, mostly mismanaged under the reign of Bush. We will have to take care of wounded soldiers for the next 60 years. The high unemployment means less revenue, therefore higher deficits. The slow growth we had and loss revenue.

    Now it is true, democrats got their hands in the cookie jar, but this is the behavior of political parties. But it was Cheney who said deficits don’t matter and Limbaugh and Hannity said little when Bush was in office.

    But the biggest deficit of all is not the money. It is the non investment in our country, in our people, and in the future. It was tax cuts with Bush and little else and “stay the course.” Bush lived by ideology and it failed. So with all this, we will pay a price of high unemployment, slow growth, inflation/stagflation, a low dollar, and a country that is not competitive with the rest of the world and we will suffer many years for 8 years of nothing. We have already seen the lower standard of living on the middle class.

    On religion, get real. We have churches all over the country. No one is holding anyone back. On top of that, you include one religion or symbol in government then you include all religions. And that includes muslims.

    And this is the failure of the republicans. It is ideology first, and a lot of votes comes from the religious right.

    As I said before, democrats are dumb and republicans are a bunch of nuts. We already saw one born again Christian nut in the White House. And a lot of soldiers died. So the republicans have to clean up their act and they have not learned it yet.

  21. anjin-san says:

    Guess you don’t remember the Bush years of growth and prosperity

    More like the Bush years of the biggest credit binge in history. Guess what, eventually the bills come due and the chickens come home to roost.

    At any rate, our economy was pretty much melting down as Mr. Bush left office. If it makes you feel good to blame Obama, don’t let me stop you, but I think even you knows who led us into this jackpot.

    And yes, the economy is improving, even if we are still far in the weeds. The market had a very good year overall, the job hemorrhage is under control and the trends in employment show some reason for optimism. November retail numbers are significantly better than those of a year earlier. Also there are encouraging trends in the corporate credit markets and CFO’s are ready to get back into some capital spending (very good news for me!)

  22. anjin-san says:

    11,000 jobs were lost rather than a quarter million

    Quite correct. And that is a VAST improvement. We still need to get into net job creation, but 11K lost jobs nationally is pretty damn close to nothing. So the hemorrhage if over, the bleeding is almost over (unless the trend changes) and hopefully we can start putting some folks back to work Unemployment remains a terrible problem, but we are in a hell of a not better shape now then we were the day Obama took office. If we go from the 500K a month job losses Obama inherited to net job growth before the midterms it absolutely helps Democrats.

  23. Raoul says:

    What we see is a lot of self delusion. I was guilty too. For the longest time I thought the Dems would regain the House. They did not. Principally because come election time tabulations are always closer than people realize- they always are.

  24. DL says:

    The GOP is no longer the opposition, but a transparent group of overcautious, non-committed members of the ruling class that is perfectly content with being number two – as long as they keep their jobs and their lucrative lifestyles. Our founding fathers really erred in failing to put in term limits – since the masses are so easily led by the largess and hedonistic freedom (abortion) they voted themselves. There also need for a trigger to override the Supreme Court when it strays from its assigned role of interpreter and becomes lawmakers (Roe and Kelo anyone?)No, impeachment is insufficient, being left in the hands of the ruling class.

  25. floyd says:

    Hmmm…! Marxism and religious bigotry…
    Should work for US at least as well as it worked for the USSR?

  26. spencer says:

    Yes, the Bush years of growth and prosperity:

    1.. The weakest economic expansion on ecord,
    including in the 1930s.

    2.. The second most severe recession on record.
    Second to 1929-1933 only.

    3.. Almost a 50% decline in the stock market from
    when Bush was elected until Obama was.

    4…Approximate a 40% drop in the dollar.

    5…Conversion of a budget surplus to a large structural deficit.

    6… Publishing the most pages in the Federal Register of any president on record.

    Shall I go on.

    Maybe someone can show something specific to support the claim of the Bush years of prosperity.