Tuesday, August 28, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: U.S. House Overview In Late August

While there are only 33 U.S. senate seats up for election in 2012, there are
435 U.S. house contests. Republicans made dramatic gains in the 2010
off-year elections. This was primarily due to the heavy-handed passage of
the Obama administration's healthcare legislation (known as "Obamacare'),
perhaps the most unpopular major legislation in recent times. Although there
were local factors in most 2010 races, as always occur, that election became,
in effect, "nationalized" by voter unhappiness with the leadership of
then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Republicans won control of the U.S. house in 2010, and replaced Mrs.
Pelosi with John Boehner. Mr, Reid, however, remained in control, albeit
with a much smaller majority. Since January, 2011, the house under
Speaker Boehner has passed much legislation, as it promised it would, but
Mr. Reid has dictated that the senate be essentially a moribund branch of
government, not even allowing a vote on most house initiatives. As a result,
and compounded by Obama administration policies, the economy has drifted,
trying to recover, but thwarted by a lack of positive economic policies.

Obamacare, the primary cause of the Democrats' 2010 debacle, is still in place,
having been okayed by the U.S. supreme court, and now beginning to take
effect (revealing its immense costs and unintended consequences). It remains
very unpopular.

Normally, in a presidential re-election year, the chief executive wins, and makes
some gains in house and senate races. In recent years, however, we have seen a
series of one-term presidents, beginning with Gerald Ford, and continuing with
Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. This might be also the case in 2012.
President Obama's poll numbers have languished in the mid-40s for two years,
and show no sign of improving. In terms of the senate and house races, the
signs are not good for the Democrats. They will have a net loss in the senate,
and probably control. In the house, it was expected in early 2011 by most
observers that many of the seats won by the GOP in 2010 would revert back
to the Democrats in 2012, especially with Mr. Obama leading the ticket.

There is no indication by polls or information in the field that this will happen.
Democrats are expected to pick up a few seats, in the single digits, and might
even have a small net loss on Election Day. The redistricting of U.S. house
seats, which occurs every ten years, had a slight demographic favor to the
Republicans on paper. As it turned out, it was primarily a wash, with
Democrats doing better in some states than expected, and no so well in others.

A case in point, is in Minnesota's 8th congressional district where first-term
incumbent Republican Chip Cravaack was expected to lose his re-election in
this historically heavily Democrat (called DFL in this state) seat. Cravaack
had upset 18-term DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar in 2010, but faced a
number of serious challengers for his 2012 race. As it turned out, none of these
potential challengers ran, and the DFL field was reduced to a political has-been
(a former congressman of another district who had been out of office for 30
years), a woman who had run in 2010 in another district, (and had lost badly),
and a city councilman from the district's largest city who was unknown
elsewhere (and had no cash). The primary was bitter, and was split three ways
almost evenly, with former Congressman Rick Nolan narrowly winning.
Although the 8th district usually votes heavily DFL, it is a conservative blue
collar area. Mr. Nolan is a 1970's liberal with foreign policy views that are not
necessarily shared by many 8th district DFL voters. Nolan will get funding
from the national Democratic party and from organized labor, but Mr. Cravaack
has more than $1 million in the bank, and outside money for his DFL opponent
will be more than matched from Republican sources. Redistricting only
slightly improved Mr. Cravaack's chances, as he received some exurban Twin
City GOP precincts in the 8th's new lines. Voter intensity in outstate Minnnesota
this year favors Republicans, although the state is likely to give its electoral
votes, as it did in 2008, to Mr. Obama (because of the heavy DFL vote in the
Twin Cities). This should have been an easy pick-up for the Democrats. but
the hard-working Mr. Cravaack might well keep the seat.

There are also individual stories of districts in the nation where Democrats are
likely to have success, but the overview, with just over two months until
Election Day, is that the new U.S. house on January, 2013, with some new
faces, will be very similar to the one now in office.

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

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