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Will there be another ‘Republican revolution’?

Six months ago, while it was considered a given that Democrats would lose seats in the mid-term House and Senate elections, very few pundits were predicting that their majority was at stake.  However, that’s changed and while it’s still early in the campaign, more and more, the question that keeps coming up is will the midterm elections in 2010 be a repeat of the 1994 Republican Revolution that swept the GOP to power in both Houses of Congress?  The Republicans are hoping it will be and take every opportunity to look for similarities between their 1994 win and this year’s election.  The Democrats on the other hand try to downplay such comparisons.  They argue, with some justification, that the circumstances are different, and that they still have a good chance of holding power in both Houses.  But, both parties are coming to the conclusion that the House, and quite possibly the Senate, are up for grabs.

A year ago there wasn’t much expectation that the House with a 39 vote Democratic majority would change hands.  Democrats were expected to lose, at most, 25 seats.  But that estimate has been raised.  Some are saying more than thirty, and having predicted a loss of that many seats, figure it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that the Republicans might get a majority.  These kinds of swings do happen.   In 1958, the Democrats won 49 seats in a midterm election, in 1966, the GOP took 47 seats, and in 1994 the GOP took 54 seats in the House to take an overall majority, one they held onto for twelve years.
This year the Democrats are vulnerable.  The seats they picked up in the 2006 and 2008 elections are held by new members.   A majority of them are in districts that lean Republican and most of these members don’t have the name recognition that more long serving members would have.  This, in the eyes of the GOP, makes them prime targets.  According to the Cook Report, which assesses elections in individual districts, 62 are deemed competitive while national GOP organizations are targeting over 70 seats.
The vulnerable Democratic seats are spread across the country to include California, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin and New York.  Two of the most vulnerable are here in Virginia.  Congressman Tom Perrillo is a prime target and so is Glen Nye.  Also, several seats held by retiring Democrats are leaning GOP.  This includes Dave Obey’s Wisconsin seat and Bart Stupak’s seat in Michigan.   Another seat that is looking increasingly vulnerable is the North Carolina seat former Redskin Quarterback Heath Shuler won in 2006.
Much of the reason for the sudden shift can be traced to a bad economy, concerns over President Obama’s agenda, healthcare, the deficit, and the handling of the Gulf Oil Spill.   
When it comes to the Senate, the political dynamics are different.  The Democrats will lose seats.  That’s a given.  But the question is can the GOP win enough seats needed to take a majority?  With only a third of the Senate up for election it’s a long shot.  Though Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, considered one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats, was handed a potentially weak challenger, he still trails his opponent in the double digits.  The seat held by retiring North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan will likely shift to the Republicans and unless there is a major change in fortune so will Blanche Lincoln’s Arkansas seat.  Delaware is a likely GOP pickup and so is the President’s old seat in Illinois.  In Pennsylvania, retired Admiral and now Congressman Joe Sestak is running against Pat Toomey.  But Toomey has run for the Senate before, has strong name recognition, and for those who think he is too right wing to get elected, it’s worth remembering that this is the state that elected one of the Senate’s most conservative members, Rick Santorum.
Another seat that’s leaning to the GOP is Indiana.  Outgoing Senator Evan Bayh’s decision to retire left Indiana Democrats in the lurch.  Other seats that are competitive include Barbara Boxer in California, Patty Murray from Washington and Russ Feingold in Wisconsin.  To win a majority in the Senate almost every competitive seat would have to go to the Republicans, but again, if the swing is large enough, that could happen.
While it’s easy to make comparisons to 1994 there are differences.   For one thing President Obama is not Bill Clinton.  Clinton was a powerful rallying cry for the Republicans 16 years ago.  It’s hard to tell whether Obama will have the same effect this year.  Also, there is the absence of a GOP agenda.  In 1994, Newt Gingrich, then GOP House Minority leader, engineered the Republican takeover with a dynamic, “Contract with America.”  The Republicans don’t have a unified platform going into this year’s midterm elections.  They’re counting on unhappy voters to support them.  Which, at the moment it appears many are likely to do.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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