Political Animal


December 07, 2012 10:02 AM Eyes on the Next Prize

By Ed Kilgore

One reason for the apparent willingness of so many Republicans to focus on who gets blame or credit for a fiscal “fix” rather than the nature of the “fix” itself is the eternal capacity of pols to focus on the next election cycle. Right now that may look like a wonderfully comfortable oasis compared to the realities of, you know, actually governing.

And as Charlie Cook succinctly explains today, 2014 remains, according to history and the likely landscape, a year that may wipe away many an elephant tear:

In the six “six-year itch” elections since World War II, the party in the White House has averaged a 29-seat loss in the House and a six-seat (actually 5.6) loss in the Senate. In 1958 (Eisenhower), 1966 (Kennedy/Johnson), and 1974 (Nixon/Ford), the party in the White House lost 48 seats; in 2006 (George W. Bush), the most recent such election, the party in power lost 30 seats. In 1986 (Reagan), the loss was just five seats, while in 1998, under Clinton, the “in” party actually gained five House seats—no doubt a backlash to Republican efforts to remove the president from office. In that same election, the Senate was a wash, and in the other five, losses ranged from four seats in 1966 and 1974 to six seats in 2006 and 12 seats in 1958.
Obviously, past results are not a guarantee of future performance: Democrats are not going into the 2014 House midterms in an overexposed position, because they took such a beating in 2010, losing 63 seats and regaining only eight seats this year. It’s hard to see how Democrats could lose the 48 seats that the “in” party lost in 1958, 1966, and 1974. Also, with the way the current lines are drawn to form so many one-party districts, it would take a heckuva wave election to move a lot of seats in either direction. The House appears to have reached a kind of a partisan equilibrium; the GOP has a good chance of holding onto control for the rest of the decade, barring self-destruction resulting in a tidal wave.

I’ll interject to observe that “self-destruction” is an option always on the table with today’s Republicans, but Cook’s general point is entirely valid, given the GOP’s ability in 2012 to hold onto a robust majority of House seats despite losing the national popular vote.

But in the Senate, with only one Republican-held seat up (Susan Collins in Maine) in a state not carried by Mitt Romney by at least 8 points, the GOP seems to have little exposure. At the same time, Democrats have four seats in states that Romney carried by 15 or more points (Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Jay Rockefeller in West Virginia, and Tim Johnson in South Dakota), with two more in states that Romney won by 14 points (Max Baucus in Montana and Mark Begich in Alaska) and two others in swing states (Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Mark Warner in Virginia).

As I briefly noted in a Lunch Buffet item yesterday, Democrats could be in a position to achieve a Senate super-majority in 2016 if they manage to over-perform in 2014 as they did in 2012. But Cook’s breakdown shows how difficult that will be.

And the factor Cook doesn’t mention is the one that should most trouble Democrats: the growing disparity between the partisan leanings of the presidential and midterm electorates, attributable to the unusually high correlation of party preferences to age and ethnic divisions. Just as odds of Republican gains in 2010 went up the moment after Barack Obama’s election, so too have the odds of GOP gains in 2014, regardless of what happens in Washington between now and then. So it’s no wonder Republicans want to get there fast.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on December 07, 2012 10:22 AM:

    Another factor against the Democrats, is that Jim DeMint won't be in the Senate, championing candidates like Christine O'Donnell, Angle, Akins, and Mourdoch.

    On the plus side for Democrats, Jim DeMint will no longer be under any contraints by his fellow Republican Senators, and, from his new lofty and higly paid perch at the Heritage Foundation, can champion the candidacy of even MORE Conservative loony-tunes!

    Also too - with the Conservative tendencies towards epistemic closure and philosophical self-isolation, how long will it be before it's no longer "The Heritage Foundation," but "The Hermitage Foundation?"

  • Th on December 07, 2012 10:30 AM:

    This is another reason Democrats must not give on SS and Medicare. Make the Republicans call for cuts if they want them. Old, white people might not vote for Obama for President but that doesn't mean they won't vote for the local mayor or District Attorney with the nice family running for congress to protect SS and Medicare (and their pensions).

  • JMG on December 07, 2012 10:34 AM:

    The emphasis political forecasters place on historical factors rather than the unpredictable nature of events themselves is astonishing. It's like those football touts who said last night "The Raiders are 21-1 as home underdogs against the spread," then watched Denver win and cover because the Raiders stink and the Broncos are good.

  • jjm on December 07, 2012 10:44 AM:

    Right on, JMG! All of those pundits and Republicans who thought Obama COULDN"T WIN because the unemployment rate was over 7% ...

  • Peter C on December 07, 2012 10:52 AM:

    This is just silly. To suggest that the only relevant consideration is the fact that 2014 would be 'year 6' of a two term presidency is absurd. That's not going to be the primary thing on voters' minds. The old two-party dynamics have all been throw out by unprecedented Republican obstructionism. That makes this sort of shallow historical determinism absolutely useless.

    You study history to understand the dynamics of past situations that explain numerical results, not to pull out numerical results as if these 'dynamics' were actually all 'static'.

  • BillFromPA on December 07, 2012 10:52 AM:

    I'm encouraged by two things here, it seems that Dem surrogates are even now talking about maintaining enthusiasm and turnout into 2014 and the repugs are sabotaging themselves in multiple ways. There's no sign that the 'Baggers will stop primarying repugs who aren't crazy enough, for cripes sake Chambliss and others are on the newest hit-list, and they'll still push voter supression via photo ID laws that, I'm convinced, backfired on them, causing targeted minorities to vote just to make the point that they could. We were supposed to lose the Senate this time, it was practically a given, and who knows, DeMint's punching his Wingnut Welfare ticket may give more GOPers the idea that it's time to start making serious money as opposed to the chump change a Senator gets.

  • Ronald on December 07, 2012 10:54 AM:

    GOTV in 2014 is the win.
    Issue is that if Obama keeps pulling away from progressives (either by negotiating away SS/Medicare/Etc, or by doing things like prosecuting states who have decided to loosen marijuana laws), then the GOTV won't work and the Republicans will either hold on to or gain seats in both houses.
    Otherwise, with some effort, GOTV in 2014 can be used, especially targeted in vulnerable seats, to make gains, maybe even enough to take the house back.
    But if President Obama starts to go back to the 'old Obama' (who gave away too much to the Right), then progressives just aren't going to have the gumption to throw into that mix again. It seems to be how politics and the voting public work...

  • c u n d gulag on December 07, 2012 11:04 AM:

    There once was a man names Howard Dean,
    Who had a 50 State strategy
    That was pretty keen!

    Then a man named Rahm Emanuel,
    Came and took his place
    And he let it go all to Hell...

  • T2 on December 07, 2012 11:20 AM:

    redistricting will be a problem, no doubt. But 2010 was accomplished as much because of disenchanted "progressives" sitting on their butts as TeaBaggers going nuts. If 2014 rolls around and economics are in good upward motion, if the phony Fiscal Cliff goes away and America basically appears to the common citizen to be doing OK again, ranting and snorting TeaBags will find fewer ears to scream into than they did in 2010.

  • SteveT on December 07, 2012 11:43 AM:

    c u n d gulag:

    I give your verse a 62.

    It presents a darkly poignant message that people need to hear.

    But you can't dance to it. [g]

  • Ebenezer Scrooge on December 07, 2012 12:07 PM:

    The six-year itch is dead, at least when Democrats occupy the White House. The six-year itch stems from complacency in power, which tends to get voters a bit annoyed, by a number of mechanisms. The agenda of the ruling party is usually played out; scandals begin to proliferate; the Administration is riven by internal backbiting.

    None of this will occur in 2014. Extreme Republican obstructionism and oppositionalism mean that much of the Obama agenda is still open. The Obama administration is remarkably scandal-free. And Republican oppositionalism provides the necessary common enemy among the Democrats, minimizing backbiting.

    The Democrats have a chance of taking the House, if their mobilization and long-term demographic trends somehow outweigh the short-term demographic advantages of the Republicans in an off-year election.

  • Bruce K on December 07, 2012 1:23 PM:

    the 2014 cycle will depend on whether the Repubs make their impeachment attempt before it or after it..I assume the (oxymoron alert) rational Republicans know this will backfire and could produce Dem gains in 2014 if it is done before then, but they may not be able to control the crazies who will demand impeachment over some hugely important matter dug up by Darrell Issa.

    All the Republican efforts at obstruction must be viewed as an attempt to keep Obama's approval ratings as low as possible so their eventual impeachment attempt will cost them as little as possible politically.

  • bloomingpol on December 07, 2012 1:24 PM:

    Here in NH a whole lot of us are painfully aware of 2014 looming over our heads. The 2010 GOP supermajority in both legislative houses has left us with a financial mess. Not much of hope of fixing all the stuff in two years. So we are already working to make sure that voters don't forget 2010 and repeat their same mistakes. I hope everyone else is having the same fears and getting up and running again.
    I feel like I've been politically active without a break for what will be a decade next year, that's when Howard Dean came to town and gave me my toolbox of organizing tools. I fear I will drop dead or die in some climate induced disaster before I get to actually "retire."

  • Rich F on December 07, 2012 1:55 PM:

    I, for one, would like President Obama to actually push for a Democratic congress. One valid criticism of the President has been his utter reluctance to state that he needs a Democratic Congress to achieve his goals. His criticism of GOP obstructionism has been muted for the most part. He didn't campaign in 2010, and really didn't reach out beyond his own re-election in 2012 either, and with no re-election to lose, he should hit the trail in 2014 and give 'em hell ala Harry Truman.

  • Doug on December 07, 2012 6:52 PM:

    "...while in 1998, under Clinton, the 'in' party actually gained five House seats - no doubt a backlash to Republican efforts to remove the President from office.
    In that same election, the Senate was a wash..." Charles Cook cited by Ed Kilgore

    Why do I think 2014 has a much greater chance of turning out more like 1998 than any of the other "itches"? Whatever could it be? Could it be that sentence that includes the phrase "backlash to Republican efforts"?
    It could! It could!