An Election Breakwater?

George Will sums up the dilemma facing Democrats in this off-year election:

The electorate’s dyspeptic mood about the nation’s politics reflects the fact that, as is frequently the case, the party in power in Washington has done much to earn a rebuke but the opposition party has done nothing to earn a reward.

A great line. And oh-so-true.

Democrats are hoping that an electoral tsunami in November will wash away the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. But Democrats have been complicit in building what may be a breakwater—Republican consultant Bill McInturff’s term—that protects the hold that Republicans secured in 1994 after 40 years in the minority. And if Democrats do win a majority, they may regret it.

The breakwater has three components—gerrymandering, campaign-finance “reforms” and the particular form of profligacy known as earmarks. In state after state, redistricting after the 2000 Census proved that bipartisanship—ritually praised, rarely practiced—is often overrated. Democrats and Republicans collaborated in drawing congressional districts that would protect incumbents of both parties. Campaign-finance “reforms,” which make raising money more difficult, are written by incumbents and work to the advantage of… well, take a wild guess. Here is a hint: In the last two election cycles, 98 percent of incumbents seeking re-election won. The explosive and utterly bipartisan growth of earmarks—federal spending directed by individual legislators to specific projects—is yet another advantage incumbents have as they toil to get rid of that offensive 2 percent.

Quite right. But why would the Democrats “regret it” if they won?

For Democrats to gain, say, 20 seats, they would almost have to run the table of the at most 35 seats currently considered competitive. And if they do, they will have a five-seat majority, the smallest for either party since 1952. That will make it difficult to accomplish anything, so control of the House will only make Democrats look impotent—and complicit in whatever is displeasing people about Washington in 2008.

True. I suspect it’s a problem they will gladly face.

For reasons outlined by Will and the fact that, with the possible exception of the 1994 elections, congressional races are decided on local rather than national issues, the Republicans will retain control of the House. Holding onto the Senate, most observers agree, is a virtual certainty.

Presuming that holds true, it will be truly remarkable. We are in the midst of a longish, very unpopular war. The president is doing horribly in the polls with no immediate signs of looking up. We’ve had the Abraham scandal, which implicated Republican leadership and their K Street Project. Yet, the betting is that the majority party will retain power.

As Will notes, that says a lot about our system. It also says something about the Democratic Party.

Full dislosure: My wife is a VP with McInturff‘s firm, Public Opinion Strategies.

FILED UNDER: 2006 Election, 2008 Election, Congress, , , , , , , , ,
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:

    I agree with the assessment: the Republicans will hold both the House and the Senate in 2006.

    Disclosure: I am a Democrat. I find myself increasingly puzzled by the ability of my fellow partisans to delude themselves. They convinced themselves that Al Gore was a strong candidate (he was a very weak candidate—as was Bush). They convinced themselves that John Kerry was electable. They convinced themselves that Howard Dean would make a good national party chairman.

    Now they’re convincing themselves that everyone in the country hates Bush as much as their activists do. I’m completely baffled by all the self-delusion.

  2. G A PHILLIPS says:

    Dave, I think their trying to convince themselves that everybody in the county doesn’t hate them as much as they hate their activists.