Midterm Loss and GOP Fortunes in 2006

Sunday’s Washington Post rounds up the evidence supporting a Democratic takeover of both chambers of Congress:

Two days before a bitterly fought midterm election, Democrats have moved into position to recapture the House and have laid siege to the Senate, setting the stage for a dramatic recasting of the power structure in Washington for President Bush’s final two years in office, according to a Washington Post analysis of competitive races across the country.

In the battle for the House, Democrats appear almost certain to pick up more than the 15 seats needed to regain the majority. Republicans virtually concede 10 seats, and a split of the 30 tossup races would add an additional 15 to the Democratic column.

The Senate poses a tougher challenge for Democrats, who need to gain six seats to take control of that chamber. A three-seat gain is almost assured, but they would have to find the other three seats from four states considered to have tossup races — Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri and Montana.

In governors’ races, Democrats are likely to emerge with the majority for the first time in 12 years. Five states are almost certain to switch parties, including the key battlegrounds of New York, Massachusetts and Ohio. Four races are too close to call, but only one of those seats — in Wisconsin — is held by a Democrat.

As James noted in his post on Charles Krauthammer’s Friday op-ed the number of seats likely to be lost by the GOP is in line with historical trends–indeed, in only two midterm elections since 1936 has the incumbent president’s party gained seats in Congress–the fact that the Republicans have been unable to build the sort of permanent cushion that the Democrats were able to acquire during the post-war era means that even a loss in line with historical trends is likely to be catastrophic for the GOP majority.

Midterm loss, however, could be a good thing for the Republicans going forward. Having a Democratic leadership in Congress will be a useful rhetorical foil for the president, and divided government will force Democrats to shoulder some of the blame for the continuation of unpopular policies–particularly if prominent Democrats are unable to follow through on their commitments to force troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Looking at personalities in Congress, speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi may easily turn out to be a less popular speaker with the American public than Newt Gingrich, particularly if she takes a prominent public role as the face of the Democratic Party. Pelosi’s commitments to the Congressional Black Caucus to put John Conyers and Alcee Hastings in important positions of power in the House could easily backfire if Conyers repeats the GOP’s overreach during the 1998 impeachment debacle and Hastings (along with other Democratic representatives and senators implicated in corruption scandals) brings media scrutiny to congressional corruption on both sides of the aisle.

Probably the best news for the Republicans is that after 12 years of Republican control of Congress, voters have forgotten how the Democrats acted during their 40-year dominance of both chambers–pretty much like Republicans have behaved over the past 12. The next two years will be a useful reminder to the public that the grass isn’t any greener on the other side of the aisle.

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Chris Lawrence
About Chris Lawrence
Chris teaches political science at Middle Georgia State University in Macon, Georgia. He has a Ph.D. in political science (with concentrations in American politics and political methodology) from the University of Mississippi. He began writing for OTB in June 2006. Follow him on Twitter @lordsutch.


  1. anjin-san says:

    Sounds like the Bush GOP’s idea of whats good for America is having someone else to blame for Bush’s failures. Really impressive leadership…