Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Whither The House of Representatives? Whither The Whole Election?

Because redistricting has not yet been finalized in all 50 states, and the nominees
of so many U.S. house races have not yet been determined, predicting the outcome
of the 2012 congressional races must be done with great and provisional caution.

As the highly respected Rothenberg Political Report suggests in its latest issue,
about 190 seats currently held by Republicans seem secure in 2012, and about 170
Democratic seats seem secure. This leaves about 70-plus seats currently too close
to call.

No matter who wins the presidential election, and because the 2013 U.S. senate
seems likely to be controlled by the Republicans (if for no other reason due to the
fact that more than twice has many senate seats now held by Democrats are up
for election this November), control of the U.S. house next year will almost
certainly be critical to the direction of U.S. domestic policy for the next four years.

If Mr. Obama is re-elected, but the senate and the house are controlled by the GOP,
that will act as a huge brake on any more radical plans the president has. If Mr.
Romney wins, and both houses of congress are Republican, we are likely to see a
roll-back of the Obama agenda (including Obamacare), and the institution of many
of the conservative economic ideas into national policy in the first term. The least
likely outcome, but always a possible one, would be the re-election of the president
and his party's control of both houses of Congress. In that case, the nation is in
store for a wholesale transformation of the American government to a welfare and
entitlement state.

The political prediction business, of which I am an inveterate practitioner, is
always fraught with danger. In 2008, I got it wrong. The voters, having already
expressed fatigue with the Bush years in 2006, were goaded by the mortgage
banking crisis, into cleaning house. And who could blame them?

In 2009, however, it was obvious (at least to me) that the "Obamacare"
legislation was, at the very least, a huge over-reach, improperly pushed
through the Democratic Congress, and quickly unpopular. The landslide
national election of 2010, in which the Republicans regained control of the
U.S. house and made important gains in the U.S. senate, was relatively easy to
predict (although my earliest predictions were poo-poohed by both those on
the left and the right).

At the outset of the 2012 national election campaign, this one with a
presidential election as well, I suggested that the Republicans were likely to
lose a few house seats, almost certain to gain control of the U.S. senate,
and more likely than not to win back the presidency. This was before
redistricting, recruitment of most challengers to incumbents in both the
senate and house races, and the GOP nominee for president unknown.

So where are we now that we know the Republican nominee, and the names
of most of the candidates for the senate, and redistricting almost complete?

The answer, of course, is hidden in the prospects of the state of the economy
in September and October when the bulk of independents, non-aligned and
centrist voters make up their minds about who to vote for.

The administration will go virtually to any lengths to persuade voters that
the economy is recovering (and recovering robustly). If the facts support
them, and that includes large numbers of Americans going back to work in
the next 90 days, a soaring stock market, and a dramatic rise in U.S.
manufacturing and production, it would not take a rocket scientist to predict
the re-election of the president, and many victories (not now predicted) in
congressional races. If, on the other hand, the real unemployment numbers
do not decline substantially (I don't mean the officials statistics; I mean the
real numbers); gasoline prices remain near, at or above current levels; the
stock market and real estate market declines, small business optimism
evaporates; and the high cost of "Obamacare" becomes more obvious; then
the 2012 election will continue the trend of 2010.

Selfishly, I hope the former scenario takes place. That would be good
financially not only for myself, but for almost all Americans. But the facts,
as I see them, signal a scenario more like the latter. Once again, "Obamacare"
acts as a huge drag on economic recovery. The more we learn about the
details of this legislation (Mrs Pelosi warned us about this), the more radical
and inappropriate this so-called reform of U.S. healthcare becomes clear.
If the U.S. Supreme Court rules this legislation unconstitutional, it solves
the problem of putting it into practice. It does not solve the Obama
administration's political problem arising from having tried to foist it on
the country. If the Court rules it is constitutional, it will provoke taxpayers
to the polls (as it did in 2010) to elect a Congress and a president to repeal it.
Thus, I am suggesting the exact opposite of some Democratic strategists who
contend that either way the Democrats win. To the contrary, this ill-conceived
legislation brings Democrats a no-win outcome no matter how the Court decides.
(Although the Constitution and public policy are much better served if the Court
rejects it.)

At each level of a national campaign, there are those who point out sagely that
two years, and then a year, and then six months, are a "political lifetime," and
that predictions are, yes, very risky business. We are now six months or so
from election day. Events do intervene. Surprises almost always happen. The
tinderbox of world politics often explodes when you least expect it. But the
shape and form of the 2012 elections are now coming into clear view. Certain
unchangeable conditions remain. This election will be primarily about the
voters evaluation of the incumbent president's performance during the past
three-plus years, about whether economic conditions are better or worse than
they were on January 20, 2009, and whether we as a nation are more or less
secure than we were on that date as well.

The reader does not need me, or any other pundit, to tell him or her the
answers to these questions. I have some thoughts on the subject, and will
gladly share them over the next few months in this space and elsewhere, but
the best prognosticator of the 2012 U.S. elections resides in the place where
the reader lives.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

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