- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

If congressional Democrats acquire subpoena power by capturing a majority in either the House or the Senate in this fall’s elections, the last two years of the Bush administration will be a nightmare for the White House. The odds that Democrats will achieve majority status in at least one chamber of Congress have improved, according to the nonpartisan analysis provided by the Cook Political Report.

Today we look at the House, where Democrats must gain 15 seats in November. That would enable them to install Nancy Pelosi as speaker; Alcee Hastings (an impeached, convicted and ousted federal judge) as chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; Henry Waxman as chairman of the Government Reform Committee; and John Conyers, who is running for re-election in his Detroit district on an “impeach the president” platform, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Cook’s latest analysis (July 19) categorizes 361 of the 435 House seats as solidly held by the party now representing them. In ascending order of competitiveness, he classifies the remaining 74 seats as either “likely” Democratic or Republican (seats that are “not considered competitive at this point but have the potential to become engaged”); “lean” Democratic or Republican (seats that are “considered competitive races but one party has an advantage”); or Democratic or Republican “toss ups” (seats that are “the most competitive; either party has a good chance of winning”). No House seat is currently classified as solidly held, leaning or likely to move into the camp of the other party.

Comparing Mr. Cook’s rankings from July 2005 with his latest assessment illustrates how the Republican position has deteriorated over the last 12 months. A year ago, only three Republican seats were toss-ups; today 15 are. A year ago, 24 Republican-held seats were ranked as either leaning Republican (15) or likely Republican (nine). Today, those numbers are 21 and 18, respectively. In other words, the number of non-solid Republican seats has doubled to 54. By comparison, while five Democratic seats were ranked as toss-ups a year ago, today none are. Moreover, the July 2005 Republican-to-Democratic ratio of likely, leaning and toss-up seats was 27 to 22; today’s ratio is 54 to 20.

In the six postwar midterm elections that resulted in “a sharply negative nationwide referendum on the party in power” (1946, 1958, 1966, 1974, 1982 and 1994), Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution recently observed that “[t]he party losing ground found itself besieged in districts previously thought to be safe, where the average swing [in the vote] was double or more the national swing” of 5 percentage points or more. He noted that the number of House seats lost by the party in power during those six midterm elections ranged from 26 to 56, all comfortably above the 15 seats Democrats need in November.

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