Saturday, March 27, 2010

Surge and Decline

Anybody that tells you that House seats go up and down based on the idea that America is unhappy with the President or the party in power is telling you at most half of the story.

In 1946 the Republicans picked up 55 seats due to unhappiness with President Truman. Two years later the Democrats picked up 75 seats even though Truman won the election by one of the smaller margins of the 20th century. The Republicans then picked up 28 seats two years later. Unhappiness with Truman? Perhaps. The Democrats’ seats in 1951-1952. were just a few less than 1945-1946. When Eisenhower got elected the Republicans picked up 22 seats. The Democrats picked up 19 two years later.

America was hit with a recession in 1958. People blamed Eisenhower and the Republicans lost 48 seats that year. John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, was elected two years later. Yet the Republicans picked up 21 seats. Johnson had big coattails in 1964, picking up 36 seats for his party. Two years later the Republicans picked up 47 seats. This left the representation split in the same range it’d been a few years earlier.

Between 1944 and 1994 only once did were Democratic seats outside of the 232-263 range two sessions in a row. Democrats got a big bump during Watergate and didn’t decline to that range until Reagan was elected three sessions later. There was an equilibrium in seat distribution. Any surge due to Presidential or party popularity was followed by a similar decline.

The first time there was no decline after a surge was the 1994 election that Republicans gained 54 seats. A new equilibrium was established where the Republicans had between 221 and 232 seats while the Democrats had between 202 and 212.

The Democratic gains of 52 seats could establish a new equilibrium but polls in many Republican leaning districts indicate that likely isn’t true. If the Republicans win 43 seats this year they’ll once again be in the 1994-2006 range.

Redistricting may result in the Republicans taking additional seats in 2012, but it’s worth noting that since World War II none of the top ten gains were in years following redistricting.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Democratic Senate Outlook = Ugly

If you look at the make-up of the Democratic seats that are up for election this year you would normally be optimistic for them. Of the 18 seats they have up, 12 are in blue states, 4 in purple, and 2 in red states. That 67% share in blue states is better than 2012, 61%, or 2014, 47%. In a tough year you want to have your seats up for election in your states. Conceivably that’d make the seats safer. Normally Democrats would rejoice that they wouldn’t have to defend seats in Montana, South Dakota, Louisiana, Alaska,and Nebraska this year.

Freshman senators usually have the toughest re-election battle. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) won by 10 points in her first re-election campaign and by 20 in her second. The Democrats only have two freshmen up for re-election this year, Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) both of whom were appointed. In 2012 they’ll have 9 freshmen up for re-election (10 if you include Bernie Sanders) and in 2014 they’ll have 8. The Republicans, on the other hand, have 6 freshmen up this year, but only 3 in 2012, and 3 in 2014, assuming Mike Castle wins the Delaware seat this year.

Normally the Republican freshmen, none of whom got 60% of the vote in 2004, would be considered vulnerable. Only one, Richard Burr (R-NC) looks like it has the potential to be competitive this year.

Of the remaining 11 Democrats running for re-election only 2 are even finishing their second term. The remaining 9 have won at least 3 elections. Yet only 4 of those 9 are considered to be in non-competitive elections. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Harry Reid (D-NV), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) all are in competitive or potentially competitive elections. All 5 of them are in states Barack Obama won in 2008.

Democrats have 21 seats up in 2012, while the Republicans have only 10. Two seats held by independents who caucus with the Democrats are up. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) likely won’t have a competitive election. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) could be knocked off by a Democrat. Of the 21, 9 are freshman. None of them broke 60% and 3 won by 3 points or less. The remaining 12 include the 2 of the oldest Democrats (Robert Byrd and Daniel Akaka) and 3 others (Herb Kohl, Dianne Feinstein, and Tom Carper) who have hinted about retirement. The other 7 are Bill Nelson, Bob Nelson, Amy Klobuchar, Debbie Stabenow, Jeff Bingaman, Kent Conrad, and Maria Cantwell. Both Nelsons have low approval ratings and Conrad is in a red state that turned on his fellow Democrat, Byron Dorgan. Of these Bingaman is the only one who will likely have nothing to worry about regardless of circumstances.

The Republicans have it easier, simply because they only have 10 seats to defend. Three of them are in Wyoming, Utah, and Mississippi, states where Democrats don’t run competitively. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) was re-elected with 74.4% of the vote and Richard Lugar (R-IN) was re-elected with 87.3%. This was in a year that was heavily tilted to the Democrats.

The remaining five seats are held by Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Scott Brown (R-MA), Bob Corker (R-TN), John Ensign (R-NV), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). Kyl and Corker have reasonable good approval ratings. Hutchison’s seat will be open and could be competitive. Democrats haven’t won a Senate seat in Texas, however, since 1988. They’ll need a strong tailwind to take this one.

Brown will be vulnerable because he represents Massachusetts. Ensign seems an unlikely candidate to run for re-election. Whether it’s Ensign or open, Nevada should be competitive in 2012.

Republicans should have 2-5 seats in play. Democrats should have a minimum of 13 in play but, with retirements, they could have as many as 19 competitive. This year should be the easiest for the Democrats to defend and the hardest for the Republicans based on the candidates. Yet it appears to be the opposite. In a neutral year 2012 looks extremely difficult for the Democrats. They’ll need President Obama to have strong coattails. If not it could be better for the Republicans than 2010 looks like it’ll be.

Friday, March 19, 2010

House Ratings Update

Once David Paterson declares the New York 29th congressional district vacant there has to be a special election between 30 and 40 days. That’s a short amount of time for a congressional campaign. If a candidate doesn’t start on equal footing it’s difficult to catch up. Republican candidate Tom Reed has been campaigning for months, assumably shaking hands and selling himself. As of December 31, he had $230,276 in the bank. That’s not an exceptional amount but it’s a good start when there’s no incumbent. The Democrats won’t have a candidate until the end of the month. From that point the Democrats would want at least 60 days before an election. Don’t expect Paterson to call the seat vacant any time soon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

House: Special Elections

Special elections don’t sway the balance of power in the House, especially with the Democrats having such an advantage. Their power is in how people read them. In 2008 the Republicans had to defend three seats which became vacant. Two were in strong Republican districts, while the third was ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert’s seat. Democrats pulled off upset wins in each election. It might have been a predictor for what was coming in November and it may have also energized Democrats enough to fulfill that prediction.

Republicans have recently won victories in two Democratic strong holds, Massachusetts and New Jersey, and picked up Democratic National Committee Tim Kaine’s governorship. Republicans seem to be energized. Democrats? We don’t know. If the healthcare bill passes the left wing base may be energized enough to make a difference. If not, the Democrats likely won’t wake up from their slumber until they do pass significant legislation.

The Democrats have three open seats that will likely all have elections in May. While Pennsylvania-12 was held by John Murtha for years the district has been skewing Republican. Hawaii-1 is strongly Democratic. New York-29 still skews Republican but elected a Democrat in 2008.

The Democrats may have a stronger candidate in Pennsylvania-12 and definitely do in Hawaii-1. The Republicans have an advantage in New York-29 they didn’t have in the 2009 elections in New York-20 and New York-23. They have two candidates who have been campaigning for months, while the Democrats have a candidate who is just starting his campaign.

The district is skewing Republican, however, with a large population of working class Democrats who have been responsive to the Republican message. If the environment is favorable to Republicans this one is winnable.

EDIT: It was pointed out to me that this election is the same day as the Pennsylvania primary. The Democrats have competitive primaries for governor and senator, while the GOP doesn’t. This could give the Democrats an advantage in turn out.

The Hawaii election, however, is a free for all with two prominent Democrats and one prominent Republican. The winner will be the candidate who gets the most votes regardless whether it’s a majority of the ballots cast. If the two Democrats could split the Democratic vote Charles Dijou, the Republican candidate, could win the seat with 37% of the vote. Neil Abercrombie won the district by comfortable margins, but the two Democrats running aren’t Abercrombie. George W. Bush took 47% of the vote in 2004.

New York-29 just became open with Eric Massa’s resignation. The Republicans have a candidate in former Corning Mayor Tom Reed. Reed hasn’t lit the fundraising world on fire, but he has a significant head start over a Democratic candidate who has yet to be determined. Once New York Governor David Paterson declares the seat vacant an election will occur within 30-40 days. A short window will make it difficult on a candidate who has no campaign apparatus or money in the bank.

When it appeared Scott Brown had a chance in Massachusetts donations poured in and people from all over the country made GOTV calls. Martha Coakley did not. Enthusiasm could be a big factor, as could spending from the congressional campaign committees. The Democrats have more money. So they could pour it heavily into these races, while the Republicans might wait until November when all these districts will be up for election again.

These elections should be interesting, but what they’ll say is anybody’s guess.