Tuesday, July 20, 2010

2010 U.S. House Races, Or What Price A Dubious Legacy

As I recently pointed out, the 2010 mid-term congressional races have been successfully nationalized so far by Republicans. Taking control of the U.S. senate is a tall order for the GOP this year because they currently have only 41 seats, (they would need a net gain of 10 seats), and because only one-third of the senate seats are up for election.

In the U.S. House, however, all 535 seats are up, and when an election has been nationalized by unpopular legislation and policies of the ruling party, the opportunity for a takeover is substantially increased. Early this year, I suggested that about 55 net house seats could be moved to the GOP side of the aisle. At that time, such a prediction seemed “far out,” but today it might be considered a conservative estimate (in more ways than one).

Also working against the current Democratic majority in the House is the fact that a substantial number of Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008 won in normally conservative and GOP districts, but won’t have the favorable conditions of those years to enable them to repeat many or most of those upset victories. Even in more liberal districts, a number of senior Democratic members are retiring or running for higher office, and the resulting “open seat” is vulnerable to a GOP takeover in a year trending to the Republicans.

Many Democratic strategists, as well as more neutral observers and pundits, are openly forecasting a Republican takeover. The usual caveats apply, e.g., the state of the economy and the stock market, international conditions, and the impact of constantly new and often unpleasant details revealed about Obamacare legislation (including higher insurance premium rates and large numbers of citizens deciding not to participate). I take caveats seriously, so I am more cautious about an “absolute” prediction of a GOP-controlled house.

One part of the Democratic base, furthermore, seems secure for now. These are the voters in the inner cities of the most northern, eastern and midwestern U.S. These voters, including large numbers of black voters, provide President Obama and the Democrats with a major share of their base vote. The problem for the liberal party with these voters is that, lacking Mr. Obama on the ticket this year, and with the economic crisis still in full swing, they are less likely to vote than during a presidential year.

In Minnesota, for example, the Democrats (here called the DFL) are likely to have notable losses in their large majorities in the state legislature. With the DFL heading into a bruising gubernatorial primary, and the Independence Party likely to field a serious candidate in the governor’s race, DFL margins are likely to be cut seriously in November, even though he DFL has not elected a governor in 20 years. First District incumbent DFL Congressman TIm Walz is not currently listed among vulnerable House members seeking re-election, but his slavish support of Speaker Pelosi’s liberal agenda and his vote for Obamacare make him at risk in this conservative rural district.

Similar vulnerabilities exist for incumbent Democrats in neighboring states, including Earl Pomeroy in North Dakota, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in South Dakota, Steve Kagan in Wisconsin, the long-time Democratic seat held by retiring Congressman David Obey also in Wisconsin, and Leonard Boswell in Iowa, just to mention one midwestern region.

This circumstance can be repeated all over the country. In 2008, Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper upset veteran GOP Congressman Phil English in Pennsylvania’s 3rd District. But Dahlkemper, representing a pro-life swing district, voted for Obamacare and other liberal measures not favored by many voters in this blue collar western Pennsylvania district that voted for John McCain. I don’t see Dahlkemper on any list today of vulnerable Democrats, but it would not take much to put her there. There are dozens of similar situations throughout the country.

Most damaging to Democratic prospects is the stubborn insistence of President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid on advancing their radical legislative agenda and policies which put their incumbent House members increasingly at risk in November. There is simply no recent historical precedent for this kind of political behavior, although we can easily figure out their motive, i.e., a liberal law legacy that cannot be undone by succeeding Congresses.

What price a dubious legacy? With less than four months to go until election day, we will find out soon enough.

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