- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Political mathematicians postulate frequently these days about who will win majority status in Congress this November. Yet a rational look at the numbers suggests the Democrats are using fuzzy math in their calculations. While the equation yielding a new Senate Democratic majority is theoretically possible, Republicans retain some formidable advantages. In the House, Democrats need more magic than math. Despite some heroic assumptions, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s abacas won’t have enough beads to make her speaker.

Democratic hopes were buoyed in March, when Democrat Ben Chandler captured a special election, replacing Rep. Ernie Fletcher, who was elected governor in Kentucky — the first special election victory by House Democrats since 1991. Two weeks ago, Stephanie Herseth of South Dakota narrowly won a bid to replace Republican Bill Janklow, who resigned. Then, as if to confirm these two wins, last week Democrats trumpeted a Los Angeles Times poll showing they had a 19-point lead in the generic congressional ballot. Mrs. Pelosi even convened a special meeting of Democrats this past Tuesday to convince them her rhetoric was rational.

Arguing the political sands are shifting is a favorite Democratic parlor game. Yet recent events are more circumstantial than indicative of a trend. Both Democrats ran previously and carried over money from their earlier races. Miss Herseth, for example, had $350,000 on day one of her campaign, while her opponent, Larry Dietrich, had zero. Bottom line: The Democrats recruited well-known, well-financed candidates for time-shortened special elections — neither a Republican excuse, nor a Democratic trend, either.

As for the poll, it was just flat-out wrong. As Bush campaign pollster Matthew Dowd pointed out, the LA Times included a disproportionate amount of Democrats in its sample. Its generic results reflect this bias.

What about the broader outlook for the House in November? Here the weight of factors such as redistricting hobbles the Democratic bandwagon. The current House ratio of 228 Republicans, 206 Democrats and one independent (Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with the Democrats) means Democrats need 11 net seats to reach the magic number of 218.

Yet that number is misleading. Republicans already secured at least three new open seats due to redistricting in Texas. Republican strategists say Texas redistricting alone could add six net seats to the Republican column — raising the Democratic bar from 11 to 17. The real target balloons to 18 net seats when the now-open seat of Democrat Rep. Ken Lucas is factored into the equation, which Republicans are heavily favored to win.

That’s where the Democratic math test fails. They need to win all eight to 10 toss-up open seats and also beat the same number of Republican incumbents to take back the House — a feat no objective observer believes will happen.

Democratic prospects for taking back the Senate are a little brighter, but they still face a complicated math problem. Republicans now control the Senate by a razor-thin margin, 51-49. And because of the Senate’s six-year terms, only a third of the upper body face re-election every two years. So only 34 seats are up, and of those, only 10 are considered truly competitive.

Breaking these down demonstrates why Republicans have a structural edge. Of the 10 hotly contested states, five are Democratic open seats, all in the South, where Republican political strength is on a secular rise and President Bush should do well. They include North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana — all strong prospects for Republican gains, with the president at the top of the ticket. Three of the open swing states are currently in Republican hands, Oklahoma, Colorado and Illinois. Again, the president should run strong in at least the first two. The other remaining hotly contested races pit an incumbent against a well-known challenger (Democrat Tom Daschle against former GOP Rep. John Thune in South Dakota and Republican Lisa Murkowski versus former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles in Alaska).

Taking these 10 races out of the equation, Republicans begin with 47 secure seats and the Democrats hold 43. To achieve the magic number of 51, Republicans must win only four out of the 10, while Democrats must capture eight — not impossible, but clearly a more challenging task.

Majority math will continue in the months ahead, tutored by Democratic operatives and a wishful thinking echo chamber in the liberal media. Yet a sober look at the numbers suggests a Democratic takeover of the House is a near mathematical impossibility, and the Senate’s an uphill climb. Anyone who tells you otherwise needs remedial instruction: See the teacher after class.

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