Let me be the first independent to make this bold prediction:
The 2010 election will be a virtual wash in terms of the balance of power in Congress.
No, really. I mean it.
The conventional wisdom goes like this: 1) The party that holds the White House and congressional majorities always loses seats in the midterm election. 2) There is a strong anti-incumbent mood in the nation right now and, if the people want to throw out everyone on Capitol Hill, that bodes particularly ill for the party in power.
Don’t believe it.
I agree that the Democrats will probably lose a few seats in the House. But it hardly matters. The Dems currently hold a 77-seat majority. Does anyone believe, honestly, that 39 seats are going to flip red and none are going to flip blue? The GOP pulled this off twice before — 54 seats in 1994 and 55 in 1946 — but these are once-in-a-generation occurrences. Oh, and in the next election after 1946, the Democrats won back all 55 seats — plus another 20.
Also, it’s a trend but not a given that the party in power is going to lose seats. The Republicans picked up a handful in 2002, following the Democrats’ 1934 precedent. So I’ll be surprised, but not shocked, if the Democrats pick up a few this year.
No, I’m not living in a bubble. I smell the tar boiling. I see the elongated shadows of pitchfork-wielding villagers along the wall. It’s an ugly mood out there.
But at some point, anger and fear ebb and you start looking for solution. The inchoate rage will abate regardless of how loud the numerically tiny Tea Party movement screams. When people realize that their taxes haven’t gone up, that one or two of the unemployed people they know have found work and others are taking this as an optimistic sign, and that the dollar remains strong even as the overpumped gold market drops faster than John Ensign’s pants, then Glenn Beck’s paranoid rantings will induce nothing in his viewers except the urge to channel-surf.
In short, the act will, as it must, get old. As frenzied as the crowds were over the summer, as frothy as they still are (though not as much), we should all think ahead. To November. Eight months from now. The American people aren’t going to stay mad for another eight months. As a whole, they’re not even inclined to pay attention for eight weeks. Sooner or later, they’re going to start thinking:
“How do you balance a budget by cutting taxes?”
“Even if I agree that the public option is an assault on my personal freedom, and I’m not as sure of that as I used to be, doesn’t throwing money at insurance companies impoverish me — and could there be a greater assault on my freedom than bankrupcy?”
“I’m still mad about the bailout, but I’m beginning to understand the difference between that and the stimulus, and the stimulus doesn’t seem so bad.”
I doubt they’re going to worry too much about the deficit, because it doesn’t affect them. Short-term deficits don’t affect anyone although perennial deficits can increase the national debt which, over time, is like paying an extra tax. That tax, of course, doesn’t go to Washington where — in theory at least — it’ll be used in the interest of the American people. It’s more like paying a tax to Beijing with no expectation of receiving anything back. But this is a long way off. I don’t understand why conservatives believe that health care is not a crisis but the debt is. We should be concerned about them both, equally, as long-term challenges. We should address them like grownups who get the concept of “30-year mortgage”. (Of course, if more people actually got that concept, we wouldn’t have had a housing bubble.)
But let’s just look at the numbers real quick. What can the Republicans realistically look to pick up? Roughly equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats in both houses are retiring this year. As of this past week, 22 Democratic and 18 Republican lower-house representatives have called it quits, according to Electoral-vote.com. Ten of those Democrats are in heavily blue districts; I figure the other 12 are toast. I figure 16 of the Republican seats are safe, but there’s a good chance the GOP will lose two. So in terms of currently known open seats, the Democrats will lose a net 10 seats. I don’t see them losing another 29.
In the Senate a net five of the 36 seats would have to flip to give the Republicans the majority. I see six blue seats that are vulnerable: Ted Kaufman’s (Delaware, retiring after two years of keeping Joe Biden’s seat warm), Evan Bayh’s (Indiana, retiring just to be a pissant), Bryan Dorgan (North Dakota, retiring after long service representing a fairly conservative state), Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas, in the right wing’s crosshairs), Michael Bennet (Colorado, first defense of an appointed seat) and Harry Reid (Nevada, what a tool). If the GOP picks up all of these, they could win the upper house. Big “if”. The first three I’ll concede, although none of them is a sure thing. There’s so much primary electioneering chaos going on in Colorado, and the President himself is committed to campaigning for him, so I’d be surprised if a random Republican would up-end Bennet. Harry Reid? If he can actually deliver something — anything! — on health care, his star begins to rise again. Not that I’d miss him if he had to go.
But this whole scenario assumes that the Democrats don’t pick up a single Republican seat. There are six retiring Republican senators — one more than retiring Democrats — and I don’t think any of them are safe for either party. The Kentucky seat is the only one that’s not in a swing state, and it’s currently occupied by Jim Bunning, who says things so stupid and cold-hearted that even the most rock-ribbed of Republicans shudder.
And now let’s look at the Republicans standing for reelection. In Louisiana, whoremonger David Vitter is vulnerable to a host of primary challenges. I don’t know if he’ll survive to November, but with porn star Stormy Daniels running against him (she’s a Republican, gotta love it!) as well as more serious candidates, you can bet the primary will attract lots of cameras.
And even John McCain’s seat is vulnerable. He’s getting teabagged in the primary by radio ranter J.D. Hayworth. The Democrats don’t have an A-list candidate in that race, but maybe they don’t need one. The Republican Party has taken a turn to the right nationwide, including Arizona. But that doesn’t mean Arizona as a whole is trending that way. That’s the great myth: that as southern states’ populations increase, so does conservative influence. Who’s moving to the south? It’s a more diverse, more erudite population. In other words, Democrats. Unless your politics come out of your drinking water (cue the Birchers), then Arizona is one of those states that’s trending to the left. If the Republicans run the Tea Party guy instead of its one-time standard bearer and one-time-long-ago moderate, then the voters might turn out for whoever isn’t Hayworth.
Well, we’ll know in eight months whether this was a bunch of crap. But if the election comes and goes with no major impact, remember that you read it here first.