Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Grand Dreams for the Grand Old Party?

Yet another prediction, this one by Larry Sabato in Politico, about the 2014 midterms and this one has Republicans possibly retaking the Senate and adding to their House majority. While the piece lists several reasons behind this prediction, I want to focus on two: the unpopularity of Obamacare and the curse of second-term presidents.

While it is true that polls show that Obamacare is unpopular, most of that can be attributed to the problems with the website (most of which have been fixed) and the row over the canceled policies. The total number of people who will be affected by the latter is probably no more than five million. Not an insignificant number, but hardly fatal, given the total population of the country. Since the overwhelming majority of people get their health insurance from their employers, this issue isn't likely to have the negative impact some are suggesting. And if enrollment numbers continue climb, as appears to be the case, it's entirely possible that by next fall, the ACA could be a net positive for Democrats. The next few months will be critical.

But now we get to the real reason for GOP hope this year.  Put succinctly, the history of second midterm elections does not bode well for the party that occupies the White House. Going back to Eisenhower, every two-term president, save one, has lost seats in his second term. Only Bill Clinton - 1996 - avoided that fate. To be honest, this is a pretty grim fact for Democrats.

I have maintained over the last few months that Democrats were concentrating way too much on retaking the House when their control of the Senate is far more tenuous. Presently the Dems hold a 55-45 majority and will be defending 21 of 35 seats this year. When you factor in that six of those seats are in red states and one is in a purple state, you start to see the problem. If the GOP sweeps all seven, they will flip the Senate.

Of course, the odds of a clean sweep are highly improbable. Sabato puts the over / under for Republican gains at 3.5. And then there's the 800 pound gorilla in the room: the Tea Party. Even if the GOP does sweep all the vulnerable Democratic seats, they will likely lose a couple of seats of their own. While Mitch McConnell will probably win his primary in Kentucky, his Tea Party challenger will force him so far to the right that Alison Grimes, the Democrat, might actually win the general. The same holds true in states like South Carolina, where there are two seats up for grabs, and Georgia, where Saxby Chambliss has decided not to seek reelection. If 2012 was any indicator, you can count on the Tea Party throwing a monkey wrench into the works once again.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Like earlier Democratic dreams of retaking the House, it is way too early to make predictions about the midterms. There are way too many variables to consider and way too much time between now and November. If the economy continues to improve, Democrats could ride that to the finish line.

The point is, we probably won't be able to get an accurate read on where these elections are going until the summer. Pontificating on them now is pointless.

Link: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/01/midterm-elections-republicans-really-could-win-2014-101802.html?hp=pm_1#.UszGrG-A3rc

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