Daily I am asked my opinion as to whether the Democrats are going to take over the Congress this autumn. I put the question to a dozen or so colleagues at a luncheon last week in the Capitol. Most of those who were counted believed that the GOP would hang on to both Houses but by the narrowest of margins. That would resemble Congress after the 2000 election, when Speaker J. Dennis Hastert hung on to his job by a five-vote margin and the Senate was in Republican hands only by virtue of Vice President Richard G. Cheney's having broken the 50-50 tie, which all came to an end when Senator James P. Jeffords of Vermont decided to become an independent who would caucus with the Democrats. Only one of these keen observers of the political process, other than I, believed that the Democrats would be back in the business of running the Congress. One actually suggested that the GOP would gain a couple of seats in the House and maybe even one in the Senate. This city is so consumed with what every pundit thinks about who will be in control next year that it makes Las Vegas blush. It is the number one topic at nearly every lunch or dinner. Every time there is an indication one way or the other, the reason for the change is hashed over and over.
Here is why I believe the Democrats will win big this November - big enough to control both Houses. This is the sixth-year itch election. During the last century, only once did voters not take it out on the party in power after six years. Poor President Calvin Coolidge found himself with a near deadlock after the 1926 elections. A small band of reform Republicans refused to vote for the Republican Speaker until they got concessions as to how the House operated. The deadlock continued for weeks. Finally, the log-jam had broken but it was close. 1926 was the sixth year of the Harding-Coolidge Administration. Coolidge had been handily elected in his own right in 1924 and Congress was then strongly Republican. A lot can happen in a couple of years. Herbert C. Hoover, who had been elected in the largest landslide in the history of this country, went down to humiliating defeat just four years later. He never got that second term. People forget that even FDR suffered significant losses, especially in the House in 1938. Again the sixth-year itch election. The same can be said for the FDR-Truman six years beginning in 1940 through 1946. In 1946, as World War II ended, Republicans had their single biggest victory in the 20th and now 21st Centuries. On occasion there will be an Administration which never gets to the second term. Harry S. Truman after he was elected in his own right in 1948 could not have been renominated in 1952 even if he had wanted another term. Along comes Ike. He is the first Republican to win the Presidency since Hoover in 1928. During his first two years in office Dwight D. Eisenhower had a Republican Congress. For four years the Democrats took narrow control of both Houses. Then came 1958. There was a mild recession. Voters punished Republicans with a vengeance. Democrats took over with a better than two-to-one margin in both Houses. JFK was narrowly elected in 1960. By 1966, the sixth year of the Kennedy/Johnson era, Republicans picked up 46 seats in the House and five in the Senate. President Lyndon B. Johnson then declined to seek another term in 1968. Richard M. Nixon was narrowly elected that year, was re-elected in a landslide in 1972, resigned in favor of Gerald R. Ford in 1974. That year, which was the sixth-year itch of the Nixon/Ford era, Republicans were pulverized.
Jimmy Carter became the first one-term President since Hoover. Ronald Reagan, who enjoyed a huge electoral victory in 1980 and who had for six years a Republican Senate, found himself with a hostile Congress after the 1986 elections, the sixth-year itch election. After Reagan came George Herbert Walker Bush who managed not to get a second term. Bill Clinton was duly elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1996. Clinton defied history. He actually gained five seats for the sixth-year itch election. He did this by stoking up the Black community. He was in danger of being impeached. Clinton was regarded in the Black community as one of their own. So they turned out to help him. Impeachment was still a possibility and he was sure that by defying history Republicans would give up the impeachment idea. They did not and he became only the second American President to be impeached. In 2000, as mentioned previously, the margin in the House was razor-thin and the margin in the Senate was vapor. And it took the Supreme Court to give the Presidency to George W. Bush. Bush defied history by winning back seven House seats and won back control for the Republicans in the Senate. Two years later he not only won back the Presidency but he increased the Republican margin in both the House and Senate by four votes each. That sets up the sixth-year itch election perfectly. The mood in the electorate has been described as ugly for the Republicans. The President's popularity is somewhere between 35 and 40%. Democrats have done an exceptional job of recruiting candidates, especially for the Senate. In the past couple of elections the President scored real points with the American people when he called for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 and undertook the war in 2004. But things have not gone well with either war, in Afghanistan or in Iraq. The public no longer supports our involvement, especially in Iraq. While the economy seems to be performing well, many people do not believe they have been helped by the tax cuts. Health care costs have been rising at an alarming rate. Many voters have not felt the blessings which the economy has produced for others. They are fearful of losing their jobs. Their pensions have disappeared. Social Security is in trouble. Gasoline prices keep rising. They blame all of this on the Republicans because after all they have been in power now for several years.
Some candidates are not sure that they want the President to campaign for them. They want him to raise money but then to go away. If Karl Rove, the architect of the recent Bush victories, can hold losses to a minimum so that Republicans keep control of the Congress that achievement will go down in the history books. The Democrats are almost perfectly poised to win this election. True, they have little or no program. However, they have the advantage of the immigration issue and other problems which leave the electorate angry. If the Democrats with superior candidates and with the public in a sour mood with worries about the war and the economy can't win this time they may as well hang it up. I predict a large victory for the Democrats, despite their anemic performance. In control of both Houses come next January they would spend two years making life as miserable as possible for President George W. Bush. He might even be impeached. No Supreme Court nominee of the caliber of the two confirmed in this Congress would make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This scenario will be the worst two years politically that Republican have faced since 1974. Like 1974, the real aim will be the 2008 Presidential election.