As we approach President Barack Obama’s first midterm elections, the question regarding the outcome is not whether Democrats will lose seats in the House and Senate, but how many they will lose. Patrick Ruffini, a well-known political operative and blogger, declared earlier this year that House losses for the Democrats would reach 70 seats or more, surpassing the 54 they lost in the landmark Republican wave election of 1994 and nearly doubling the 39 seats the GOP needs to wrest control of the House from the Democrats. And Fox News contributor and former Clintonite Dick Morris has claimed for months that Republicans would take not just the House, but the Senate also.
Are these bold statements just sensationalism and wishful thinking, or are there valid reasons for reaching such conclusions? Even a cursory perusal of the current political landscape and recent electoral history reveals indications that Democrats need worry about November. But if we take a deeper look, a picture of a potentially massive superstorm on the horizon begins to form.
Let’s start with some structural obstacles Democrats face heading toward Election Day 2010.
The president’s party generally loses seats in midterm elections.
From Harry Truman’s first midterms through George W. Bush’s first, the party in the White House lost an average of 24 seats in the House and just over 2 seats in the Senate. So history says an immediate disadvantage confronted Democrats right out of the gate.
Democrats have gained substantial seats in recent blue wave elections.
Ironically, Democratic successes in the elections of 2006 and 2008, ushered in by a strong political wind at their back, are making this year especially difficult now that the winds are blowing in the opposite direction. Many of the 55 net House seats won since 2004 would be difficult for Democrats to hold in any year. With a strong Republican wind blowing, holding many of them this year will be next to impossible.
Beyond structural disadvantages, there are many signs that the electorate is eager to issue an emphatic rejection of Democratic leadership and their policies on Election Day.
Voters who plan to vote Republican are far more enthusiastic.
One of the well-publicized aspects of Election 2010 has been the tremendous enthusiasm shift among the electorate. It is hard to overstate the importance of voter enthusiasm, and Republicans are clearly reaping a substantial advantage in this area. Polling results aside, one need look no further than the open primaries held last week in Missouri and Michigan to see the difference it can make in the voting booth.
Both states conduct open primaries which allow folks to vote in either party primary. In Michigan, a reliably blue state, voters chose the Republican primary by a 2-1 margin! Missourians did the same by 65% to 35%. This kind of partisan lean foretells hefty Republican margins all over in November.