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Not since the elections of 1950 and 1952 have consecutive “wave” years to one party’s benefit swept the House of Representatives. Surveying this year’s House prospects, one cannot rule out a half-century repeat. Where are the Republicans?
In the 29 states where voter registration is tracked by party, Democratic rolls have grown by almost 700,000 since the 2004 elections, while Republicans have shed nearly 1 million over the same period, as Rhodes Cook points out in the University of Virginia’s election-tracking “Crystal Ball.” Much of this owes to a lively Democratic primary. One should not read too much into registration, which does not necessarily predict November success.
But two weeks ago, the Cook Political Report doubled its estimate of “likely Republican” seats, almost all dropping from the “safe Republican” category. Scattered across 21 states, it’s not as if these are the tail end of the Northeastern Yankee extinction. One is even found in Idaho, freshman Rep. Bill Sali’s solidly Republican district. Most of these seats will remain in the Republican fold but the downgrade reflects stretched Republican financial resources. In total, the Cook analysts consider 33 Republican seats to be in play compared to 19 for the Democrats.
“We are confident that we will beat history - we will win seats,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told political scientist Thomas Schaller this week. Mr. Van Hollen’s job is to hype this very issue. But the assessment is fair given the available evidence.
Why? Congressional approval ratings are an all-time low. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, has presided over an ineffectual term puncuated by the House’s return to reason on FISA, its game of chicken over the Iraq war and other embarrassments. Today’s sour political climate is not solely anti-Republican. Amid soaring gas prices, plummetting home values and bank failures, this cycle also features a more general “throw the bums out” factor. Why have House Republicans failed to capitalize upon the failures of the majority’s ineffectual leadership in such a climate? This will be a question for the ages.
By Brahma Chellaney
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