Sunday, July 16, 2006

Midterm Elections May Result In Surprises, Says Brookings Fellow

Goopers have been repeating the old axiom that "all politics is local" to counter speculation that President Bush's problems may have negative repercussions upon Republicans in the midterms.

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institute today presents the idea that the conventional wisdom may fail this year:

When there's no strong national issue at stake, local forces (a district's partisan makeup, the incumbent's reputation, the challenger's resources, etc.) dominate congressional elections. But a sharply negative nationwide referendum on the party in power -- causing a national vote swing of five percentage points or more -- buffeted local factors in the 1946, 1958, 1966, 1974, 1982 and 1994 midterm elections, producing losses of 26 to 56 seats.

In each of those elections, changes in the national vote were not distributed evenly across districts. The party losing ground found itself besieged in districts previously thought to be safe, where the average swing was double or more the national swing.

The new pattern of uncompetitiveness that developed after the 1994 Republican landslide has not been tested by a surly electorate. The Democrats' hopes rest on intense public unhappiness with Bush and the GOP -- and enough districts in play -- to allow them to pick up the 15 seats they need to become the majority party.

Mann offers a prediction:

(M)y own reading is that the odds favor a Democratic takeover of the House. The 15 seats that the party needs for a bare majority is well below the range of minority-party gains in past tidal-wave elections. The national winds blowing against the GOP are strong and have not diminished over the past nine months. Credible progress on the ground in Iraq before November is implausible. The public's harsh evaluation of the president's performance on the economy is unlikely to be reversed by Election Day. Prospects for significant legislative achievements in the remaining months of this Congress are remote. Enough seats will be in play (including some that Republicans carried in 2004 with more than 60 percent of the vote) to allow Democrats to gain majority status in the House.

Prospects for a Democratic majority in the Senate are less bright, given the limited number of Republican seats in play. But even here, a national tide could tip all of the close races in the same direction, allowing the Democrats to hold all their threatened seats and to win the six Republican seats they need to take control.

Midterm prospects may not be as grim for the Republicans as Mann predicts.

The Brookings Fellow does not take into account electronic voting skullduggery in his analysis.

Nor does he factor in a conveniently-timed major war breaking out in the Middle East.

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