BIRNBAUM: Don’t believe what you read

Summer prognostications are notoriously inaccurate

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The latest rush of prognostication in Washington has Democrats losing control of the House of Representatives during the upcoming midterm elections and maybe losing the Senate as well.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has berated the White House spokesman for even suggesting such a thing, and a Republican campaign committee is holding fundraisers to honor a prospective Speaker John A. Boehner.

All of this is premature and, very possibly, wrong. The elections don’t get seriously under way until September. In the meantime, Americans are too busy vacationing and avoiding hard news to give meaningful thought to November.

August is the silly season for politics. Grave predictions often are made and, luckily, forgotten when the real campaigns get going after Labor Day. News outlets have to fill the airwaves and column inches with something, so why not speculate about the voters’ mood?

The reason: the voters’ mood is focused more on sand and sea than on Republicans and Democrats during the summer.

To be sure, the future isn’t completely unknowable. No one expects Democrats to have a good day when voters head to the polls this year.

They haven’t had a good year so far, and that trend, if history is guide, will continue. Rarely in the past 100 years has the party in the White House made gains in either the House or the Senate during the midterm elections.

Independent voters, who embraced Barack Obama and his party in 2008, have suffered buyer’s remorse and replaced Democrats with Republicans in statewide elections in New Jersey, Virginia and even Massachusetts. Analysts say 60 seats are up for grabs in the House, more than enough to turn the place from blue to red.

Worse yet for Democrats, public trials before the House Ethics Committee of veteran lawmakers Charles B. Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California would put painful scandals front and center as the fall elections begin in September.

It would be a shock if Republicans did not at least come close to gaining a majority in the House and make major inroads in the Senate. If the elections were held today, Democrats would lose the House and come within spitting distance of a majority in the Senate.

But the elections are not today or even two months from now. In politics, that’s an incredibly long time.

Not many insiders are betting that Mr. Rangel will go through with his ethics trial. The former chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee is expert at leveraging his position to get what he wants. Threatening to embarrass his party on the threshold of a calamitous election certainly is a ploy worthy of a master of the game, which Mr. Rangel is.

Don’t be surprised if he settles his case and gracefully bows out of the House - unindicted - right before his trial is set to begin. Waiting until the last moment will ensure that Mr. Rangel will get the best deal he possibly can.

A little good luck with the Rangel scandal and a couple monthly blips upward in employment statistics, and the Democrats can turn disaster into near-disaster and hold onto the House. That’s not out of the question, especially given the money advantage the Democrats have and probably will continue to have right through the autumn campaign.

This alternate scenario might be completely wrong. But then again, at this distance from the elections, no one knows for sure.

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About the Author

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations. His firm represents a variety of corporations.

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