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Forecasting the 2010 Congressional Elections

Ted Vaill: There is hope, in spite of what the pundits say, if we work hard over the next two months to get progressive Democrats elected.

Many of the cable pundits are forecasting a disaster for the Democrats in the upcoming November, 2010 Congressional elections, predicting Republican takeovers of both the House and the Senate. This won't happen.


In order to become the majority party in the House, the Republicans would need to gain 39 seats, almost double the average of 21 lost seats of the party controlling the White House in the bi-election two years after a presidential election. Only two presidents have gained seats two years after winning the presidency in the last 80 years - FDR in 1934, and George W. Bush in 2002, in the shadow of the 9/11 attacks.

Some of the "Blue Dog" Democrats who won seats in 2008 in traditional Republican districts may lose, but the Democrats are amassing a huge war chest of cash to help them retain their seats. And the Republicans have put up a number of extreme right wing "Tea Party" candidates who will not appeal to the swing voters - the independents - when they enter the voting booth. Most of the Republican House gains will be in the South.

My prediction - the Republicans will pick up 25 seats in the House, leaving the Democrats with a 14 vote majority. And most of those who will lose have voted against much of the Obama agenda anyway over the past 19 months, and won't be missed.

In the Senate, it will be almost impossible for the Republicans to take control. They would need to hold onto all six Republican-held (but now open) seats:

  • In Florida (where independent Charlie Crist has a strong chance of winning, and he has said that he will caucus with the majority party);
  • In Kentucky, where Tea Partier Rand Paul has made some major gaffes;
  • In Missouri, where old Republican pol Roy Blunt is trying to make a political comeback against Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan;
  • In New Hampshire, where a yet-to-be-determined Republican will challenge strong Democratic candidate;
  • In Ohio, where former Republican Congressman and Bush Administration official Rob Portman will battle Democrat Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher; and
  • In Alaska, where Tea Bagger Joe Miller ousted Senator Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary, and will face Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams in the November election.

It is unlikely that the Republicans will hold all six seats.

The Republicans believe they can take four currently held Democrat seats:

  • In Arkansas, where Senator Blanche Lincoln (who often votes with the Republicans anyway) is in trouble;
  • In Delaware, where Republican Congressman Michael Castle is ahead;
  • In Indiana, where former Congressman Dan Coates is leading Congressman Brad Ellsworth; and
  • In North Dakota, where Governor John Hoeven is far ahead of Democrat State Sen. Tracy Potter.

These are likely Republican gains.

The main battleground will be eight seats in states in the West, Midwest and Northeast, traditionally Democrat strongholds:

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  • In California, where former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (famous for getting fired from her job in 2005 after shipping 30,000 HP jobs abroad) is challenging Barbara Boxer, a three-term incumbent who has been behind (but has won) in every race she has run;
  • In Colorado, where Senator Michael Bennet, appointed to fill the seat of Senator Ken Salazar when he was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by President Obama, is facing Tea Partier Ken Buck;
  • In Connecticut, where Republican and famous "kick-in-the-nuts" wrestling promoter Linda McMahon is challenging Democrat and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who was strongly favored until his enhanced Vietnam War service record came to light;
  • In Illinois, for the Obama seat, where both Republican Rep. Mark Kirk and Democrat State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias have had minor scandals break out;
  • In Nevada, where Extreme Tea Bagger Sharron Angle is challenging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is now favored;
  • In Pennsylvania, where conservative Republican Pat Toomey is running against Joe Sestak, who unseated former Republican Sen. Arlen Spector in the Democratic primary;
  • In Washington, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is running against perpetual Republican candidate Dino Rossi; and
  • In Wisconsin, where liberal Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is being challenged by millionaire Ron Johnson, who has never run for political office before and who is favored to win the upcoming Republican primary.

To recapitulate, in order to take control of the Senate, the Republicans would have to hold all six seats they now have, win the four Democratic seats they are currently favored to win, and take six of the eight battleground state seats currently held by Democrats (five of whom are incumbents). My prediction: the Republicans will gain five seats, leaving the Senate with 52 Democrats, three independents who usually vote with the Democrats and caucus with them, and 45 Republicans.

If the Republicans take a majority of both houses of Congress, the next two years will be a complete stalemate in Washington, with the Republicans in both houses mounting investigation after investigation and scouring the life of President Obama for dirt they can throw at him. No important legislation will be passed, and the country will be worse off for it. Should additional Supreme Court vacancies open up, there could be a stalemate in the Senate on the nomination(s).

Should the Republicans take control of one house of Congress for the next two years, most likely the House of Representatives, there will also be a lengthy round of investigations by the Republicans of the President and his Administration and the Democrats in Congress. Little legislation will get enacted, unless it is non-controversial. Immigration reform, climate change fixes, and other pending legislative proposals of the Obama Administration will be dead on arrival in the next Congress.

It is not that the Republican message (largely just "hell, no!") has resonated with the voters; rather, it is that after the soaring Obama rhetoric during the campaign, little has gotten done which so far has had a direct positive effect on the lives of the average, middle class voter. If anything, they are worse off now than when the 2008 election was held, and are in a grumpy mood. That is not a good sign for any incumbent.

But I have a strong belief that when they get into thevoting booth on November 2 and see the choices they have, which may be "not so good" (Democrat) and "awful" (Republican), most of the voters will hold their noses and vote Democratic (except in the old Confederacy. After all, according to a recent poll, 39 percent of the voters blame George W. Bush for the current state of the economy, as against the hard core 19 percent who blame Obama.

As for Presidential approval ratings, at a comparable time in office:

  • George H.W. Bush (coming off the Persian Gulf War triumph) had a 74% rating (but lost his reelection bid two years later);
  • George W. Bush had a 71% rating (in his post-9/11 patriotic "rally around the President" glow);
  • Barack Obama has a 47% approval rating;
  • Bill Clinton 43%;
  • Ronald Reagan 41%; and
  • Jimmy Carter 39%.
ted vaill

And in 1982, Ronald Reagan saw the country in a deep recession, with 12% unemployment. His party lost 20 or so seats in the midterm election, but he was reelected overwhelmingly (winning 49 states) two years later.

There is hope, in spite of what the pundits say, if we work hard over the next two months to get progressive Democrats elected.

Ted Vaill

Ted Vaill has been a lawyer in Los Angeles for over 40 years, and is an elected Delegate to the California Democratic Convention from the 41st Assembly District. He is also a filmmaker, and posted a video on YouTube in September, 2008 entitled "John McCain Not Qualified for Presidency"