There has never been a time US journalistic history when Jonathan Alter of Newsweek and Bob Novak of … Bob Novak … have ever agreed on anything. Until yesterday.
On Meet the Press, Novak said:
"[E]verybody thinks that it's going to be a narrow Republican [or] a Democratic victory in the House, the Senate almost too close to call, maybe a narrow Republican victory. Why is it narrow with those huge gaps in the polls?"
Good question. One which Alter deals with in his Newsweek column this week: "[W]hile the odds now strongly favor the Democrats' [winning] control of the House, caution is still advisable on a blowout … In the worst-case scenario for the GOP, 93 percent of House incumbents will be re-elected. The voters might want to throw the bums out, but not their bum."
What with the Subscription Drive and all, I'm on my best behavior so I did Alter's arithmetic for you. He is saying that the best the Democrats can hope for that 405 of the 435 Member of Congress are re-elected. And he is assuming that 100% of incumbent losses will be Republicans.
But if the polls show that Congress has approval ratings in the mid-teens, shouldn't we be ripe for a Watergate-like election in 1974 when the Democrats picked up 48 seats; or a Gingrich-type election like 1994 when the GOP picked up 52?
Maybe, but several things mitigate against it. First, as Alter writes in his column:
"For all the talk of increased intensity this year, voters are still preoccupied with their own busy lives, not politics. They don't watch much cable news or follow issues closely. If they bother to vote, they'll often do so based on small, serendipitous shards of information. In House races, lightly covered by the press, news is mostly generated by incumbents, who get to send out "franked" mailings to constituents that testify to their greatness at taxpayers' expense."
Second, Congressional Districts are so closely gerrymandered, Alter writes, that "two families living across the street from each other might be placed in different congressional districts-if such an arrangement helps protect" the incumbents.
That, by the way, is from a conversation I had with Mr. Alter at the Newsweek offices a couple of weeks ago. I suggested that in the olden days a Republican and a Democrat might trade townships that tended to vote for the other party.
But, with the advent of computerization in the redistricting business, two incumbents might well get together and trade two houses on the north side of a street who vote Democrat, for two families on the south side of the same street who vote Republican.
He musta just forgot where he heard that.
Third, there is that Karl Rove-Ken Mehlman turnout operation which might well make the difference in enough races to keep the GOP in power.
Let's say overall turnout is about where it was in the last mid-term election: About 74 million voters.
Divide that by 435 races and you have about 170,000 per race - in close races about 85,000 per candidate.
If the GOP turnout operation turns out 2,000 people who might not otherwise have voted, you might have a number of Republican candidates who win by 750 votes, instead of having lost by 1,250.
I still believe a large number of voters will go to the polls solely on this basis: "I don't like the guys who are running things now; but I don't trust the guys who will take over if the Democrats win."
That might be winning ugly; but it will still be better than losing.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the Subscription Page; the Jonathan Alter column; and the section of the Meet the Press transcript discussed above; a Mullfoto showing why Amtrak engenders such confidence; and a pretty interesting Catchy Caption of the Day.
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