The Green Papers Commentary
 

WHAT TO WATCH FOR AS THE MIDTERM
ELECTION RETURNS COME IN ON 2 NOVEMBER
Part 2: the U.S. House of Representatives and State Governors

Saturday, October 30, 2010

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
TheGreenPapers.com Staff

NOTE: The commentaries in this series are not attempts to predict the outcome of the 2010 Midterm Elections; instead, they are merely intended as a guide for those who will be watching/listening to the election returns as they come in during the evening, US time, on General Election Day: Tuesday 2 November 2010.

the United States House of Representatives:

If there be any electoral contests, amongst those for either house of the American Congress, which seem the very embodiment of the dictum- attributed to the late Speaker of the U.S. House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Jr. (D-Massachusetts)- "Politics is local", it would be those for the lower chamber, the House of Representatives.

This body was originally intended, by the Federal Constitution's Framers, to be the only element of the U.S. Government directly elected by the People (the Federal Judiciary- then, as now- was [and is] appointive; the U.S, Senate was originally chosen by the State legislatures; and the President was [and still is] formally chosen by colleges of Electors who themselves were not, at least at first, necessarily chosen directly by the People of a given State)- it is for this reason that an American would come to speak of his or her 'Representative in Congress' (the official title of the office) as one's "Congressman" (a term that still remains in colloquial use), as- until Senators began to be elected by Popular Vote in the several States in 1913/1914- said Representative was, indeed, an American voter's only elected Member of Congress; once the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified- combined with the requirement (except under extraordinary circumstances) that said 'Congressmen' be chosen by Congressional District- the House of Representatives has become the one arm of the Federal System which, far more than any other, has come to reflect internal "regional" differences within a State as well as local concerns at the sub-State level (except, obviously, in those States which are only entitled to one Congressmen per each decennial Census): the only other American elections that can, indeed, be so locally oriented as these are those for a State's legislature (and much for the same reasons).

Thus, it is fairly difficult for the average person following the American election returns via watching on TV, listening to the radio, monitoring via the Internet, to immediately comprehend what is transpiring as regards races for the U.S. House in real time as said races are called. To add to this difficulty, elections for Senator and Governor- just as is the case re: which State has been won by a presidential candidate when said elections coincide with a Presidential Election, as was the case two years ago and will be again in two years' time- are called with great fanfare (a photo of the winner pops up on the TV screen while the 'call' is announced by the anchor) while the races for the lower chamber of Congress tend to be treated more as the quintessential "numbers game"- via charts on screen, from time to time, with "this many seats have already been won by this or the other Party, so many of these are this Party winning seats currently held by the other, net gain so far of X House seats for Party A, this many seats still to be called", etc.) while actual percentages of the vote for each Congressional contest whiz by along the "crawl" at the bottom of the screen.

All in all: while, as the evening wears on, it becomes more and more apparent- thanks to those "net gain/yet to be called" charts on screen- which Party is doing what (or not) as regards the political breakdown in the next Congress, it is not until the evening's broadcast coverage of the returns is coming to a close in the wee hours of the morning, US Eastern Time (while the calendar date is in the process of changing, US Pacific Time) that, with but a relatively few Congressional races yet to be called, one, having been following all this all evening long, can really begin to take fullest stock of what just happened as regards the elections for U.S. House of Representatives.

This all being said: here is what to be keeping in mind as the election returns and results are reported next Tuesday evening, US time, as regards elections for the U.S. House of Representatives:

As I noted in Part 1 of this series of Commentaries, there are 178 Republicans in the House of Representatives of the 111th Congress currently in office: thus, the Republicans need a net gain of at least 40 House seats come next Tuesday's elections in order to gain control of the chamber in the upcoming 112th Congress beginning next 3 January (since 218 is just over 1/2 of the total 435 House seats). This is, as I've said, eerily similar to the situation as regards the 1994 Midterm Elections which led to the emergence of the so-called "Contract with America" Republicans led by then-Congressman Newt Gingrich of Georgia (at which time, the Republicans- holding 176 House seats going into that election- needed a net gain of 42 seats in order to gain control: by the way, a few days before those '94 elections- while having dinner with friends- I opined that, while the GOP would likely take control of the Senate, the Republicans would not be able to gain control of the House, as there were too many seats for them to win from Democratic incumbents [I was basing this prediction, at least in part, on what had happened the previous time the GOP had wrested control of the Senate away from the Democrats, back in those same 1980 Elections which also first elected Republican Ronald Reagan in a landslide over an incumbent President: in '80, the GOP had gained 12 Senate seats but only 24 seats in the House]... as things turned out, my prediction as regarded the House back in 1994 was flat-out wrong! [the GOP gained 54 seats outright, with another 6 seats gained via Party-switching Congressmen early in the ensuing 104th Congress]... fortunately, since The Green Papers was not yet in existence back in 1994, nobody, other than those present at that particular repast, even knows that I actually was so wrong... oh... wait a minute... whoops!... anyway: note well that I am here not making any predictions as regards what might transpire come next Tuesday [(T)he cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid... will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again...; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more-- Mark Twain ;-)]).

The place to start looking for just such potential Republican resurgence as regards the Federal House of Representatives is within what I myself once- nearly six years ago now- called the Northeast "Confederacy" within which, by way of fullest disclosure, I happen to live (and, in addition, have lived my entire life now just about midway through its sixth decade). This "Confederacy" consists of the 6 New England States and the 5 Mid-Atlantic States (11 in all-- by coincidence, the same number of States that were part of that short-lived Southern 'Confederacy' during the American Civil War) and has been, over the past now nearly two decades, one of the most reliably Democratic Party-voting strongholds in the Nation (each of the 11 States therein having, with but one exception [this being New Hampshire during the 2000 Presidential Election], cast more votes for the Democratic presidential candidate in every Presidential Election since 1992). These States will, likely, have many a Congressional race called within them before the polls on the West Coast have even closed next Tuesday and, therefore, will be a reliable bellwether for how the evening of election returns in then likely to progress...

put another way: it can already be fairly stated that the Democrats are going to take a bath in this year's Congressional Elections... the question is: how hot will that bath be?-- and might the water even be rather scalding? ;-)

The Northeast of the USofA, more than any other relatively early reporting region (such as more than few States in the South), will more "tell the tale" come 2 November 2010 than any other.

For, as a result of the last Federal Election- that in which Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008- not a single one of the 22 Congressmen from New England is a Republican and, in the Mid-Atlantic region, Republicans currently hold but 16 out of 69 total House seats: in other words, Democrats currently occupy 75 House seats which means that nearly 3/10ths of Democratic Congressmen hail from the Northeast, even though the number of Northeast House seats is but 2/10th of the total 435 seats nationwide. If the Grand Old Party can well eat into this Democratic Congressional dominance, they will have gone a long ways towards assuring their taking control of the House as a result of races elsewhere!

Granted that almost all House seats from a single section of the country being in the hands of one of the two Major Parties (outside, perhaps, of the South for some one hundred years after the end of Reconstruction, itself the result of a Civil War that produced its own political oddities as regards Sectionalism in American Politics) simply has to be seen as an aberration and that, therefore, the Republicans winning House seats within New England would- at some point-likely occur in any event and, in fact, analogies to 1994 here break down for, as a result of the '94 "Contract with America" Midterm Elections, the number of House seats held by each Party remained unchanged [Democrats lost a seat in New Hampshire, but gained one to offset this in Rhode Island that year]-- by contrast, it is highly unlikely that all 22 House seats from New England will- in the next Congress- remain in Democratic hands (New Hampshire alone already seems poised to return to its "usual" position as reliably Republican as I type this).

At the same time, 1992 into 1994 does provide one with something of a useful guide as to what might fairly be considered the "normal" political breakdown of the Federal House seats from New England: 9 Republicans represented parts of New England in the lower house of Congress both before and after the "Contract with America" GOP victory: taking into account that Connecticut- alone among the New England States- lost a House seat as a result of the 2000 Census between then and now- it might be fair to say that 8 Republicans out of 22 Congressmen from New England would well reflect a reasonable expectation under "normal" political circumstances. Therefore, as one watches the House races in New England being called come next Tuesday evening, it might be wise to keep this very number in mind: anything more than 8 New England seats going to Republicans bodes quite ill for Democrats, somehow, even thinking of holding on to their current House majority; on the other hand, if the Democrats can keep the GOP gains in New England to fewer than that (and the fewer, the better as far as Democrats be concerned), they might well have at least a fighting chance to have minimized their losses elsewhere in the country (although- it has to be said- the Democrats giving up even, say, 7 House seats in New England merely means the GOP need, in such a case, only net 33 more seats outside of New England- not all that unlikely as I type this- in order to win control of the House in the 112th Congress).

As for the rest of the Northeast (that is, the Mid-Atlantic region): 1994 provides some rather interesting political parameters to consider as well going into next Tuesday's elections. Going into the 1994 Midterm Elections, Democrats held but 40 of 74 House seats; they lost 3 of these in the '94 elections themselves, thereby producing a 37-37 tie in the Mid-Atlantic States. Obviously, with there now being 70 House seats (New York and Pennsylvania were the only two Mid-Atlantic States to lose House seats as a result of the 2000 Census and they lost two apiece), a tie in this region between the two Major Parties would mean a 35-35 split and, to achieve such a thing, the GOP would have to gain 19 seats net in this region from what the Grand Old Party has right now. Needless to say, the Democrats cannot at all afford such a thing next Tuesday, for a 19 seat GOP surge in the Mid-Atlantic region (even if New England losses be held to that, say, 7 I have hypothetically mentioned in the previous paragraph) would virtually hand the Speaker's gavel to Congressman John Boehner (R-Ohio), for this would mean a, say, 26 vote net gain for Republicans in the Northeast alone with only a 14 seat net gain for the GOP outside the Northeast then giving that Party control of the House.

Another way to analogize 1994 and apply it to 2010 would be to take into account what actually did happen in the Mid-Atlantic region as regards House races 16 years ago now: the Democrats ended up losing 3 seats net in the Mid-Atlantic region in the wake of what was, in the main, a big Republican victory outside the Northeast. So what does this all suggest? It suggests that the closer the net loss for the Democrats in the Mid-Atlantic States might be to that 3, the better it will be for Democrats potentially holding on to the House (of course, depending on what the numbers are coming out of New England's House races, as discussed earlier); while the closer the Republican net gains in these same States might be to 19, the better it ensures that the GOP will, indeed, wrest control of the House away from the Democrats.

I'm not at all trying to give any other section of the country short shrift here: all I'm suggesting is that- because the Northeast is such a bellwether this time round, based on its recent electoral/political history- we may already know just how bad (or, perhaps, not) Election Night will be for the Democratic Party US overall well before that very night of following the election returns is even half over!

Simply put: the Democrats cannot afford to take significant net losses (say, of much more than 10 seats) in House races in the Northeast section of the country and still expect to be in control of the U.S. House of Representatives come Noon on 3 January 2011. Concomitantly, Republicans running up significant Congressional gains in this "Northeast 'Confederacy'" might well suggest, not only that the GOP so taking control of the House will have proven to be comparatively easy, but also that the era of that political 'Confederacy' in the Northeast of advantage to the Democrats is now coming to an end!

Meanwhile, just how well- or not- Republicans do in House races in the Northeast will determine just how much, or how little, interest there might be left in the battle between the two Major Parties for control of the lower chamber of Congress while more and more returns come in from more and more States as Tuesday evening wears on and the poll closings continue inexorably westward across the continent. Although the fullest extent of any Republican gains in Congress will not become most fully apparent until the wee hours of the morning (as I said back in the third paragraph of this very section of this piece), already knowing whether or not the Democrats have lost political control of the House well before that will cause one to pay much more attention to returns re: the other major races of the day- for U.S. Senator and Governor, where these are being chosen next Tuesday.

the Governors of the several States of the American Union:

The State's Governors are, in many ways, the "odd ones out" amongst the top three elective offices- in relative importance- during an American Midterm Election. Much as is the case with United States Senators, when a race for a State's chief executive's chair is called, one watching the election returns on TV will certainly know about it (as is the case with successful candidates for the U.S. Senate, victorious gubernatorial candidates are certainly not as anonymous as are the individual winners of U.S. House seats in network television election coverage)-- but, in many ways, even though Governors are elected Statewide as are a State's Senators, the "Politics is local" adage applies as much to these chief executives of the States as it does to those elected to the lower chamber in Congress... perhaps, and often, even more so!

For the Governors who will be taking their respective Oaths of Office in the months following next Tuesday's election are not going to be elected based on their votes on, say, the Obama Health Care plan (or, if not an incumbent, how they will support- or tweak- or mostly redo- or even repeal [depending on just which candidate for U.S. Senate or U.S. House one might be talking about here] said legislation). While spending by the Federal Government certainly has its direct and indirect effects on State spending (or not so spending), said Governors will have nothing to do with- indeed, no real say at all about- that first Federal Budget wrestled over by the members of the new 112th Congress. Rather, gubernatorial candidates will be elected- or not- based on local (perhaps even rather parochial) State concerns: thus, it is very difficult to directly tie the election of one Party's candidate for Governor to what might be happening as regards that same Party in the concurrent contests for Federal elective office in the same State.

The 1994 Midterm Elections, again, well provide a case in point: going into that election, there were 28 Democratic Governors, 20 Republicans and 2 who had been elected as candidates of Third Parties (Walter Hickel in Alaska and Lowell Weicker in Connecticut). Then, as will be the case this coming Tuesday, 36 Governor's Chairs were up for election- 20 of the 28 Democrats, 14 of the 20 Republicans and the 2 who were of neither Major Party (neither of whom were running for re-election in '94, by the way). Come 8 November 1994, the Republicans picked up a net gain of 10 Governor's Chairs (they only lost 1 Republican Governorship- to an Independent- this being in Maine), while the Democrats lost a net of 9 Governor's Chairs (all to Republicans)-- as a result of the 1994 Elections, then: 30 Governors would be Republicans, 19 would be Democrats and there was that one Independent (Angus King) in Maine (the two Major Parties, meanwhile, split the 2 heretofore Third Party Governor's chairs between them-- a Democrat was elected in Alaska, while a Republican was elected in Connecticut). A couple of "heavyweight" (politically speaking) Democratic Governors running for re-election that year ended up losing: Ann Richards in Texas (to future President George W. Bush) and Mario Cuomo in New York (to George Pataki).

Clearly, the Republican juggernaut in the Federal Midterm Elections being held at the same time 16 years ago now had its obvious effects on the concurrent Governor's races across the Nation.

But, at the same time, much too much can be made of just such a thing. For example: while George Pataki bested Mario Cuomo by 49% to 45%, New York's incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was re-elected to his 4th (and, as it turned out, final) term in that office by a comfortable 55% to 41% margin. Obviously, there was a fair amount of ticket-splitting as regarded the two top Statewide races in the Empire State in that election and this well indicates the danger of trying to tie the results of gubernatorial elections too closely to those of elections for Federal office being held at the same time.

This time round, there are- going into next Tuesday's balloting- 26 Democrats and 24 Republicans amongst the Nation's Governors (thus, the Democrats have 2 fewer Governors in office right now than that Party had in '94, while the GOP has 4 more than it had back then): as was the case 16 years ago, only 36 of the 50 State Governors are being elected in this year's Midterm Elections for full terms (a 37th Governor's Chair- that of Utah- is up next Tuesday in a Special Election to fill an unexpired term): 19 Democrats and 17 Republicans (not counting Utah's Republican)- numbers which are quite comparable to '94, as the 2 Third Party Governors whose Chairs back then were up for election had both been former Republican Statewide office-holders. One, therefore, would expect something very much along the lines of what took place back in 1994: a significant gain in Governor's Chairs for Republicans, restoring the Grand Old Party to a clear majority of the Governor's Chairs in the Nation coming out of this year's elections.

However, other than- perhaps- increasing the pool of potential Republican vice-presidential candidates for 2012 (keep in mind that 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin had only been first elected Governor of Alaska two years before she became John McCain's running mate), the election of newly minted GOP Governors next Tuesday will not have the direct impact upon the prospects of potential Republican 2012 presidential hopefuls that the results of the elections for both houses of Congress next Tuesday will likely have!

 


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