- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

Since George W. Bush entered the White House, the Congress has become decidedly more Republican. During both the 2002 midterm election and the 2004 presidential-election year, the GOP gained seats in both the House and the Senate.

More than 99 percent of Republican House incumbents seeking re-election won their races (208 out of 210) in November. On the Senate side, 100 percent (12 out of 12) of GOP incumbents seeking re-election were successful. As stunning as this electoral achievement is, it’s worth recalling that in 1994 not a single Republican incumbent seeking re-election lost (157 in the House and 10 in the Senate). That was the year, of course, that Republicans won a majority in the House for the first time in 40 years and re-captured the Senate after losing their six-year upper-chamber majority in 1986.

The big story of the 2004 congressional elections was the four-seat increase Republicans achieved in the Senate, where they raised their majority from 51 members to 55 members. In addition to defeating Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader for the past 10 years, Republican candidates captured all five of the Southern seats (North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia) vacated by retiring Democrats. Just as Republicans had won five of the seven closest Senate races in 2002, GOP Senate candidates won eight of the nine closest races in 2004.

In the House, Republicans increased their majority membership by three seats in November. This followed the party’s eight-seat jump in 2002. In 2004, Republicans won more House seats (232) than they had in any election since 1946.

House Democrats obviously have many reasons to be inconsolable. One of their biggest has to be this fact: After working so hard to reduce the Republican majority in the 1996, 1998 and 2000 elections, when they gained three seats, four seats and one seat, respectively, the Democratic caucus today is smaller than it was after the 1994 GOP landslide, when Republicans won 230 seats. Moreover, Democratic prospects for regaining the majority are arguably much slimmer today than they were a decade ago. In 2004, only 10 of the House’s 435 seats were won by a margin of less than 5 percentage points. That is a record low since at least World War II. Indeed, as recently as the 1992, 1994 and 1996 elections, an average of 42 seats were decided by 5 points or less.

With Republicans enjoying a nearly 30-seat majority today (232-202, with one Democratic-caucusing independent), House Democrats have to wonder when, where and how enough Republican seats will become sufficiently vulnerable for Democrats to regain the majority. Their equally stunned Senate counterparts must be wondering the same thing.

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