Thursday, November 02, 2006

Electoral Politics: Reflections and Predictions

Admittedly, I have a love/hate relationship with electoral politics. I love elections and politics in general, but I hate election season. Hence this split personality on my part leads to relative silence and general ambilivance about the upcoming midterm elections next week. Okay, so someone who can rattle off the names and poll statistics of almost all the major races next week isn’t really ambivalent, but I’m not as excited as I once was or should be.

My pet phrase for the next 5 days is “cautious optimism.” By this I mean that while I can read the polls, listen to the pundits, and devour the commentators like everyone else, I’m not really sure what’s going to happen. I hope that the Democrats make big gains and can regain control of Congress, but I’m not yet sold that’s actually going to happen, as you’ll see in the predictions below.

As I’ve noted before my hatred comes mostly from the disgustingly low level of political discourse that occurs during election cycles. Both parties are equally guilty in my book, so I’m not buying any of this “they started it crap;” a pox on all your houses I say. It was interesting, however, to note that such disgusting discourse is not universal. In fact, out on the west coast, where I spent much of the last 10 days, things are much, much different. In California there appear to be no hotly contested races. Governor Arnold is cruising to reelection with almost no formidable opponent. Phil Angelides (sp?) is his name, but you’d have been hard pressed to know that had you not looked at the ballot or the “election book” that is sent to all registered voters (note, I don’t use the term book lightly; this thing is not a guide or even a pamphlet, it’s almost 150 pages long and, therefore, it’s a book, I’m not kidding). The same can be said for Senator Dianne Feinstein and just about all of the states 52 congressional office holders. As Paul’s previous post notes, things are so easy going out in the land of the liberals that Duncan Hunter decided to announce his candidacy for President of the United States. For what it’s worth I concur with Paul about Mr. Hunter’s chances, but I have to say I think the best line came from his opponent for Congress, who was quoted in the LA Times as saying that Mr. Hunter has a much chance of being elected President has he did of being elected Miss America.

Anyway, it had been some time since I was outside the beltway at any time close to a major election, so it was nice to see what others think and do in the weeks and days leading up to a contest (present outside the beltway residents of this blog excluded of course). Let me say that whoever coined the phrase “inside the Beltway mentality” has it absolutely right. I literally thought I had stepped into the political twilight zone while I was away. Not only were there no ads on TV or on the radio, there was little coverage in the LA Times or other more locally oriented papers. In fact, politics, whether local or national, was the furthest thing from almost anyone’s mind. The big news stories were a fire destroying some nearby homes, USC losing to Oregon State (GO BEAVERS!!), and the start of the Lakers basketball season. Politics, it seems takes a back seat in California to other more leisurely pursuits. This is not to say that the subject never came up, but generally I was the one to initiate the discussion. What a change of pace, so relaxed and non-controversial I almost missed DC. Ironically, the one issue that did come up most often was the Mark Foley scandal. I found this surprising as I’ve never really attributed much importance to the issue, but almost everyone seemed to want to know what I thought about it. I chalk much of this up to curiosity about my job and day-to-day life (I spent a lot of time with people I hadn’t seen in several years, since graduating from law school), and to the fact that since the scandal had to do with sex (or attempted sexual conduct) it was merely more interesting than most political stories. Other than that I can’t really say that the left coast is that involved in the midterm fervor. I hope and believe that other “outside the beltway” areas are different, especially those areas with hotly contested elections for House and Senate seats. Make no mistake, this election is important, they all are. I fear, however, that the absence of a Presidential race means low turnout and suppressed interest. I don’t think I can put into words how disturbing and depressing this reality is. The fact remains that mid-term congressional elections are far more important than Presidential elections. Always have been, always will be (even if we amend the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College and directly elect the President). What it will take for more people to recognize this simple fact of American government I do not know, but I hope they do someday or else we're really going to be in trouble.

Enough reflection let’s get to predictions. In short, I probably concur with the vast number of pundits and handicappers. I believe (“cautiously optimistic” remember) that the Democrats will win enough seats to take control of the House of Representatives. Will they win 16 seats (1 more than required) or 40 seats, I don’t know. I tend to think the final number will be somewhere around 22 or 25, depending on just how big of a “wave” there actually winds up being. I think there are several individual house races worth watching that may give us a chance to judge the size of the wave early in the evening. In my opinion, watch the Northeast very carefully. Races like New York’s 26th (Tom Reynolds), Connecticut’s 4th (Chris Shays) and 1st (Nancy Johnson) and Pennsylvania’s 7th (Curt Weldon) may all be harbingers of things to come later in the evening. If the Democrats win some or even all of these races than I think we may see a 30-40 seat swing. Another “early” race to watch is Ohio’s Deborah Pryce who is the 4th ranking member of the GOP leadership. Should she lose, which is possible, at least according to some polls, it could be another sign of a long night for the GOP. Of course, splits in these races will mean a smaller Democratic majority, but nevertheless may be an important signal to voters in the mid-west and west about the strength of the GOP. A Democratic landslide will mean big gains in the Northeast and Ohio and strong showing in the southwest, northwest, and far west (Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Wisconsin, New Mexico). As for the South, I don’t expect much in the way of major Democratic gains, they might win in open races like the Texas 22nd (Tom Delay’s former district), but those seats will be tough if not impossible to retain in 2008. Big gains in the other parts of the country will mean a better chance for a Dem majority for at least a few election cycles.

As for the Senate, it’s much, much too close to call. Right now I’d have to say the Democrats pick up 4-5 seats leaving them one short of a majority. Things look good in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania (though I’m not counting Santorum out), Ohio, Maryland (I’m not buying the polls showing a tight race. Steele’s a good candidate, but the demographics are against him), and New Jersey (I’m not a huge Menendez fan, but he’s not going to be my Senator). The tight races are going to be the ones like Tennessee, Missouri, and Montana. Like Maryland, I’m not really buying the Allen-Webb Virginia polling. Allen will win VA, he’s supposed to. He’s done as a 2008 presidential candidate, but he’ll hold his Senate seat. Dems may take 2 of the 3 tight races with the loss I think coming in Tennessee, which is really too bad because I think Harold Ford Jr. ran the far better campaign and deserves to win. That said; TN is a GOP state at heart and Bob Corker, for better or worse, is the GOP candidate and might yet eek out a victory. MO and MT may swing for the Dems, but that won’t be enough. Of course, 51-49 in the Senate is recipe for stalemate so if there are such things as “moral” victories in Congress I guess this can count. Of course, I could be wrong about all of this and the Dems could sweep to victory and carry the Senate as well. I personally give this less than a 15% chance of happening, but it is certainly statistically possible.

All in all it should be an interesting and exciting night. Thankfully after Tuesday it will be over and then the “governing” begins again. I’m anxious to get comments and other predictions. I don’t put too much into my own thoughts, as I’ve been wrong before, but I thought I should at least get them all out there to stimulate discussion.


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