Republicans Expand House Majority
The GOP added to its majority in the House, giving it the biggest majority it has had since Truman was President.
Four years ago, Republicans stunned Washington when, just two years after losing the White House decisively and four years after losing control of Congress after have held at least the House since the 1994 elections, Republicans won 63 seats in the House of Representatives. Two years later, the GOP saw eight seats slip back to the Democrats, which wasn’t unexpected in a Presidential year in which the opposing party won the White House. Going into this year, there was no chance that Democrats would pick up seats in the House, much less win back a majority, and the lack of competitive seats made large GOP gains unlikely. Nonetheless, Republicans did pick up seats last night and seem on track to have their largest majority in the House of Representatives since Harry S Truman was President:
Republicans expanded their majority in the House of Representatives, riding a wave of dissatisfaction with President Obama to victories on Tuesday that will embolden SpeakerJohn A. Boehner as he tries to manage a rebellious Tea Party caucus.
Early Wednesday, it appeared that Republicans were on the verge of winning at least 10 additional seats — gains that would give them their largest majority since the 1940s.
It was a dispiriting outcome for Democrats, who just a few months ago were optimistic that a badly damaged Republican brand would help them prevail in a handful of races.
Some of the political casualties were the last holdouts of an era in which moderate and conservative Democrats could survive in states that were deeply Republican.
Representative Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia’s last Democrat in the House, lost one of the most expensive races this election cycle. John Barrow of Georgia, the last white Democrat to represent the Deep South, also failed to hang on.
Republicans also picked up seats in blue territory, adding two in New York State.
Mr. Boehner said Tuesday night that the results were “humbling.” He added: “This is not a time for celebration. It’s time for government to start getting results.”
Even with the Republican gains, the overall makeup of the House was expected to change little. It will remain a place that largely reflects the bases of both political parties rather than the increasingly diverse nation it represents.
When the 114th Congress convenes in January, any changes along ideological, racial or gender lines will be only at the margins.
That homogeneity is particularly stark inside the Republican conference. Before Tuesday’s election, 89 percent of House Republicans were white men. The election of a few Republican women lowered that figure only slightly.
There were some victories for diversity in the House GOP Caucus, though. In Utah’s Fourth Congressional District, Mia Love, who had run for the seat two years ago and lost by only 800 votes scored a clear victory to become the first Republican Africa-American woman in Congress. In California’s 52nd District, Republican Carl DeMaio, who is openly gay, holds on to a slim lead over his Democratic opponent. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Republican Tisei, who is also openly gay, fell short in his bid to win in that state’s 6th Congressional District. In New York, meanwhile Elise Stefanik became the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives from either party at the age of 30. For the most part, though, it remains true that the House GOP Caucus is overwhelmingly white and male, and that is likely to be something the party will have to deal with going forward, starting with better candidate recruitment in 2016 and going forward.
More on the GOP’s victories in the House from The Washington Post:
After 1 a.m. Eastern time, Republicans were within striking distance of their goal of winning at least 12 seats and attaining or exceeding the party’s largest majority of the post-World War II era.
Republicans had collected 11 seats from Democrats, with some votes in Western states still to be counted. Republican wins included the election of West Virginia state Sen. Evan Jenkins over Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (D). With 38 years of service in the House, Rahall is one of the most-tenured House members ever to lose reelection.
Though all 435 House seats were technically up for grabs, only about 40 races were even moderately competitive, a result of gerrymandered districts and a nation whose partisan divides mirror geography. Of those races, far more contests featured incumbent Democrats attempting to fend off Republican challengers than the reverse.
The limited number of competitive races did little to stem spending on the battle for the House. An analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project found that more than $234 million was spent on a whopping 480,307 airings of television ads to sway House voters alone.
Buoyed by the sinking popularity of President Obama and a midterm electorate whose demographics favored the GOP, Republicans had expressed confidence that they would pick up seats both in traditionally GOP-leaning areas and in more swing regions.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said he was humbled by the results, but he insisted that “this is not a time for celebration.”
“It’s time for government to start getting results and implementing solutions to the challenges facing our country, starting with our still-struggling economy,” he said in a statement.
Democrats tried to emphasize a meager positive: It could have been worse. Republicans appeared likely to fall far short of gaining the 29 seats that have been lost, on average, by the party of an incumbent president during the midterm elections of his second term.
The Democrats argued that their party’s economic message had been swamped by urgent and unpredictable problems overseas, including the spread of the Ebola virus and the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“We knew going in that it would be an exceedingly difficult climate,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But Israel predicted that Republican wins would embolden the GOP, boosting Democrats’ chances in two years. “It will push them to be even further out of touch with independent and moderate voters and create a much more favorable dynamic for Democrats in 2016.”
The biggest question going forward, of course, is what this increased House GOP Caucus will mean for Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and their ability control a caucus that, over the past four years, has been quite raucous and has forced leadership to take positions on a whole host of issues that have seemingly cause problems for the party as a whole, In the summer of 2011, for example, it was the insistence of “no compromises” from this wing of the caucus that forced Boehner, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, into negotiations with the Democrats and the White House over raising the debt ceiling that threatened to send the nation into fiscal chaos. There were similar all-or-nothing negotiation tactics thrust upon the leadership by the Tea Party Caucus and outside forces over budget negotiations, the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts, immigration and, of course, the whole government shutdown fiasco of September and October of last year. Without question, each of these events cause harm to the general public perception of House Republicans, and threatened to hurt the party’s chances this year and going forward. This is one reason why we saw such hard fought battles between Tea Party and “establishment” candidates, not just in at the Senatorial level, but also at the House level. Of course, Tea Party forces had more success in the House level primaries because of the smaller voting populations, with their most notable victories coming against former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Texas Congressman Ralph Hall, who is the oldest current member of the House of Representatives. For the most part, though, Tea Party forces found it difficult to win primaries for open House seats, and that may help Boehner going forward:
For Boehner, the enlarged House majority was likely to expand the cohort of rebellious conservatives who have repeatedly challenged his leadership agenda. In a number of districts, exiting Boehner backers were set to be replaced by more-right-leaning members.
Among the new crop of Republicans will be Virginia’s Dave Brat, who scored a stunning win over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) in a June primary.
At the same time, Republicans running in swing districts included possible new Boehner allies.
“The bad news for Boehner is the number of his detractors will likely increase. But the good news is he can afford to lose more votes,” said David Wasserman, an analyst for the Cook Political Report, noting that a larger House majority will mean Boehner can withstand more defectors on key votes.
The hope, obviously, is that the larger majority will temper some of the antics of the more extreme elements of the Tea Party Caucus by reducing the need for House GOP Leadership to rely on as many votes as possible in the caucus to get even simple things done. The fact that the party will also control the Senate starting in January, and will need to consider how the agenda going forward impacts both the Presidential race in 2016 and the Congressional elections in that year. Whether all of this will make Boehner’s job easier remains to be seen, of course, but the breathing room of a bigger majority should help significantly in that regard.
Democrats, meanwhile, will point out that the Republican gains in the House are below historical average. While this is true, it’s important to note that this is due in large part to the fact that the GOP had already won a lot of the “winnable” seats four years ago and the fact that we are now in an era where there are far fewer competitive districts than there used to be. In that context, the gains we saw for the GOP last night are as much a success as the fact that they captured the Senate and any other explanation is little more than spin from the likes of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel.