According to the pollsters, pundits and pols -- Democrat and nervous Republican -- a great anti-Republican wave is a-coming. Well, let's assume major Democratic gains: between 20 to 25 House seats, and four to six Senate seats. The House goes Democratic for the first time in 12 years. The Senate likely stays Republican, but by such an excruciatingly small margin that there is no governing majority.
What to say about such a victory? Substantial, yes. Historic, no. Before proclaiming a landslide, one has to ask Henny Youngman's question: "Compared to what?" (His answer to: "How's your wife?") Since the end of World War II, the average loss for a second-term presidency in its sixth year has been 29 House seats and six Senate seats. If you go back to Franklin Roosevelt's second term, the House loss average jumps to 35. Thus a 25/6 House/Senate loss would be about (and slightly below) the historical average.
True, today there is far more -- and more effective -- gerrymandering as computer power and shamelessness both have grown exponentially. So fewer seats are competitive. But that is only true for the House. You cannot gerrymander the Senate. (Of course, the Democrats are trying even that, with their perennial push for two Senate seats for the 9-to-1 Democratic District of Columbia, which should instead exercise voting rights in the state of Maryland to which it is geographically, economically and culturally contiguous.)
In his sixth year, the now-sainted Ronald Reagan lost eight Senate seats that gave the chamber back to Democratic control. That election was swayed by no wars, no weekly casualty figures, no major scandals. The first inkling of the Iran-Contra scandal broke on the morning after the election.
Nonetheless, even if just one chamber falls to the Democrats this time, it will be interpreted as a repudiation of two things: Bush and Iraq. The Democrats have certainly nationalized the election by focusing on Bush and the war -- with an overwhelming number of Democratic campaign ads doing little else than showing their Republican opponent hugging or praising or merely shaking hands with the president.
Indeed, the anti-Bush feeling is so strong that Democrats -- ignoring the niceties of federalism and enjoying the benefits of guilt-by-association -- have been running ads linking Bush with Bob Ehrlich, the popular Republican incumbent in the Maryland gubernatorial race.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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