Some random thoughts on the 2010 elections 

In my Wednesday Washington Examiner column, which had to be filed before the full returns were available, I tried to set the Republicans’ historic gains in the House of Representatives in historic perspective, keeping in mind that the exit polls suggested that Republicans would not get the full advantage of the tsunami of public opinion in their favor in Senate races. As I told an interviewer on Britain’s Sky News, if you had to choose which legislative house you would like to control in America, you would pick the House of Representatives (where the party leadership usually can determined legislative outcomes) to the Senate (which no party even with a 60-seat supermajority really controls), just as in the United Kingdom you would rather have a majority in the House of Commons than in the House of Lords.

As I write, the House results indicate that Republicans have gained a net 61 seats (64 gains minus 3 losses) and are leading in 6 races currently undecided and trailing closely in 6 other races currently undecided. So the Republican net gain will be something like 67 seats—more than any party has won in any single election since 1948 (my Examiner column actually looks at the big seat gains for the Republicans in 1946 and the Democrats in 1948).

The upshot is that Speaker-to-be John Boehner will have a workable House majority, larger than the Republicans had during the 12 years they controlled the House from 1994 to 2006, larger than Republicans have enjoyed since the 80th Congress elected in 1946 which enacted laws which resulted in enduring public policies in 1947 and 1948. The sweet spot in the House, I would argue, is around 250 seats, enough so that you can let a fair number of your member dissent on a particular vote but not so many that dozens of members feel free to ignore party discipline because the party’s majority is so large. A 67-seat Republican gain would mean a House with 246 Republicans and 189 Democrats—a smaller number of Democrats than in any House since the one elected in 1946. The popular vote for the House is not yet available. California takes five weeks to count all its votes, a vivid contrast with Brazil, which voted on Sunday, where all the votes were counted within five hours (what is wrong with this picture?). But the popular vote appears to be a near-reversal from the Democrats’ popular vote 2008 majority in the popular vote for the House which was 54%-43%; the Republicans’ majority is likely to be greater than in 1994 and the largest since 1946 (54%-44%) and perhaps since 1928 (57%-42%). We are, as I wrote in the first sentence of my Examiner column, in uncharted territory.

So why didn’t Republicans do better in the Senate races? That’s a natural question, though as I write it appears that Republicans gained 6 Senate seats—in ND, AR, IN, WI, PA and IL—and may still prevail in CO and WA. In most years gaining 6 to 8 Senate seats would be a great victory; this year it seems somewhat less so, because more seemed possible.

One reason is that Republicans had less than optimal candidates in some significant races. Mainstream media will claim that this is because tea party wacko candidates weakened Republicans’ chances. There is something to that, though not as much as MSM would like to think. I have likened the broad inrush into politics of millions of people symbolized by but not limited to the tea party movement to the peace or antiwar movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s—initially bipartisan but soon directed toward one political party, bringing in great gobs of enthusiasm and energy and a surprisingly large number of good candidates and operatives with smart political instincts, but offset to some degree by the entry into politics of a certain number of weirdos and wackos. Some self-starting candidates with little in the way of political pedigree turn out to be problematic, like Sharron Angle in Nevada—though one must add that her primary competitors accumulated enough baggage that either of them would have been problematic candidates as well, subject to the kind of negative barrage by Harry Reid’s campaign that helped to make Angle an unthinkable alternative to a critical number of Nevada voters. In Delaware primary voters picked Christine O’Donnell, a sure loser, over Mike Castle, a very likely winner who however would not have been a reliable conservative vote in the Senate. But other newcomers, it should be noted, turned out to have splendid political instincts and performed very well, notably Ron Johnson, the plastics manufacturer from Oshkosh who ended the Senate career of Russ Feingold (and who performed significantly better than the exit poll suggested).

One area where Republicans did not do well was in the West, where Democrats hailed their Mountain state gains in 2006 and 2008 as a harbinger of a future where Republicans could not depend on their electoral votes in presidential elections. Republicans, by my current count, gained 14 House seats in the East (where the Republican party was supposed to be in terminal condition), 18 seats in the Midwest (including 5 in Ohio and 4 in Barack Obama’s Illinois) and 23 seats in the South (where Democrats have become virtually extinct in districts without black or Hispanic majorities). But they gained only 7 House seats in the West and lost or seem to have lost Senate seats in Nevada, Colorado, Washington and California that at points during the campaign season seemed within reach. One reason is that very few California House seats are up for grabs, thanks to the bipartisan incumbent protection redistricting plan adopted in the redistricting following the 2000 Census. I will have more to write, surely, about the West as I have time to poke through the election returns, but I enter this as a cautionary point to Republicans now.

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Michael Barone

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