Some time ago I predicted that the Democrats would win control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate this November. Despite what I felt was a lucid explanation for that assertion, some readers wanted a more expanded explanation.
Voters are clearly in a sour mood. Not only did Connecticut Senator Joseph I. Lieberman lose his Democratic primary, but a freshman Republican in Michigan lost his House seat. And in what has to be a terrible humiliation, Governor Frank Murkowski came in a distant third in the Alaskan Republican primary. After 22 years in the Senate, this conservative Republican went home and sought out the Governorship. He won handily. But as soon as he took office, after having polled state GOP leaders as to who would be the best nominee to replace himself, he appointed his daughter, Senator Lisa Murkowski. Few saw her winning a full term in her own right but she did, although narrowly, in the Republican landslide election year of 2004. That convinced the Governor that he could be nominated and elected once more. The voters had a different idea. In the end, he had less than 20% of the primary vote. Other incumbents, although victorious, were given a hard time during their own primary elections.
Representative Chris Cannon (R-UT) comes to mind. This is the sixth-year itch election. Voters going back a century or more, with the exception of the 1998 elections, have punished the party in the White House by handing an average of 30-some seats to the opposition. 1998 was the one and only exception because President William J. Clinton campaigned hard and stoked up racial issues to the point that the Democrats picked up five seats. He told his minority audiences that if enough of them would vote for Democratic candidates Congress would never impeach him. That strategy seemed to work until Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX) sent Members one-by-one to a special reading room where the FBI's dossier on Clinton was on tap. Even the skeptics returned from that reading room ready to indict the President of the United States. If the polls are correct then this November truly will be a sixth-year itch election.
The polls show voters angry and wanting to punish the Republicans. The Republicans have an exceptionally large number of open seats. Republican Members, even Committee chairmen, sensed that this was the year to get out. The GOP had has a run of a dozen years of controlling the House of Representatives. Another election and the Member could go out a loser whereas if the Member quits now he can go out the winner. While defense of open seats is easier than is defeat of incumbents, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee has a lot on its plate.
Political analysts calculate that whereas only three Republican seats were in danger in early 2005 the number now is higher than 40. Only 15 seats are necessary for the Democrats to win this time. Rumor has it that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) already measured the office of the Speaker for new drapes and carpeting in the event that she gets to occupy the position.
When Nancy Pelosi was elected Minority Leader over the more moderate Representative Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) Republicans reacted with glee, thinking that a San Francisco liberal as head of the House Democratic Party would be helpful to them on a daily basis. It hasn't worked out that way. Most voters have no idea who Ms. Pelosi is and as a result are indifferent as to whether she becomes Speaker. In poll after poll some 70% or more of the voters think that the country is on the wrong track. That number is truly misleading as every conservative I know would put down "wrong track" if asked. So it isn't only liberals who think that things are not going in the right direction.
Look at the high price of gasoline. We know constituents are angry about that. At this stage it appears that they will take their frustrations out on the Republicans. There is the war in Iraq. Fair or not, President Bush has made the war in Iraq, which he believes is part of the War on Terror, the centerpiece of his Administration. Nearly every day Americans see images of their fellow citizens killed in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere. In addition, whereas a new government was supposed to bring stability to Iraq, the level of violence is three times what it was when the government was formed. We hear experts say that Iraq is in the middle of a civil war. President Bush rejects that, but with troops who were scheduled to come home extended another four months and with 2500 reservists called up, Americans do not see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am sure there must be one-or is that a speeding locomotive headed in my direction?
What about the economy? The President cites macro numbers as to how well this nearly 8-trillion dollar economy is doing. But all consumers hear is that the economy is slowing down, could be on the verge of a recession and so on. They also hear about massive layoffs from the automakers and from industry as a whole. Even the numbers are reflecting an economy growing at a much more modest rate of 2.5% as opposed to 4% growth earlier this year. Even so, voters do not make up their minds on the macro figures the Administration provides. Rather they listen to what they hear at the factory, in the neighborhood or at the lodge. In those places, the economic miracle does not seem to have penetrated their psyche.
But here is the kicker and the reason why the Democrats have reason to be optimistic. Usually when pollsters ask about Congress, voters say nasty things about that institution. But when asked about their own Congressman, the voter says, oh, no, he is a good guy; we need to keep him in. This year, as in 1994 when Republicans won every seat possible, voters are saying bad things about Congress and then when asked about their own Congressman, only 57% said we ought to keep him. 43% said elect a new person. That number is bound to come down closer to the elections but even if as few as 10% of voters insisted upon electing a new Member it would be a revolution. Stay tuned.