Tuesday, November 07, 2006
There is a lot at stake here: if the Republicans do better than expected than George Bush will claim to be vindicated and leave Democrats scrambling for answers. If the Democrats seize control of one or both houses of Congress than Bush will be in some trouble because the election will be seen as a referendum on his Presidency, which you don’t have to be a Democrat to say isn’t going very well right now.
Well, here is how I think some of the races will shape out:
PA Governor: Rendell 54%, Swann 44%
U.S. Senate (PA): Casey 53%, Santorum 46%
U.S. Senate (NJ): Menendez: 50%, Kean 49%
House (PA-6): Murphy 52%, Gerlach 48%
House (PA-7): Sestak 56%, Weldon 44%
House (PA-8): Fitzpatrick 50%, Murphy 49%
Here in Pennsylvania, I see Rendell riding a massive wave from the eastern part of the state to demolish Lynn Swann. It strikes me that Republicans got massively unlucky when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL. The Steelers excitement that gripped Western PA drowned out the rival campaign of former Lt. Governor Bill Scranton, a more experienced politician, and left the GOP with Swann, a nice guy but a man absurdly unqualified to be Governor, as their candidate. The Republicans would have been better off with Scranton than Swann heading the ticket … I see Rendell smashing Swann in Philly, Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery and Chester Counties (Rendell will get roughly 63% or so of the vote in the Philly Metro area), and closing out the battle by winning places like Allegheny County as well.
In the Senate race Bob Casey Jr. will easily defeat Rick Santorm. Republicans had real bad luck in 2006, with a politician as popular in southeastern PA as Rendell leading the Democratic ticket and a Republican capable of arousing such ire as Rick Santorum on the other side. Democrats have been gunning for Santorum since he defeated Harris Wofford in 1994 and recruited the right candidate for it: Casey is perfect for the socially conservative Democrats in northern and western PA to rally behind, and the prospect of defeating Santorum leaves southeastern Democrats giddy with excitement. Unlike in 2000, when Pittsburgh Congressman Ron Klink went against Santorum, SE Democrats see enough in Casey to want to support him and see him as a real difference to Santorum.
Here in PA the demographic tide is running against the Republicans: Southeastern PA is the only region of the state that is growing and adding jobs, and the shift of the Republican Party to a quasi-theological entity has hurt them in the Southeast, where people are better educated, wealthier and more socially tolerant than anywhere else in PA. Rendell won Chester County with 57% of the vote last time. John Kerry nearly carried Chester County in the 2004 election and I think that a Democrat will carry it in 2008. Montgomery County? Delaware? The Republicans are running dead campaigns there. That is going to be the reason why Gerlach and Weldon lose, and if the Democrats recapture the State Legislature it will be thanks to major victories in the Southeast.
Meanwhile, the Western part of the state is getting more Republican all of the time. I live in the Pittsburgh area and there is virtually no influx of outsiders: Pittsburgh is very socially conservative and resistant to change. Traditionally Democratic counties like Fayette and Greene have been trending Republican for years. I expect to see the Republicans to increasingly see this area as being their stronghold: Santorium and Swann both live in Allegheny County (well, Santorium really lives in Virginia, but anyway…) and their congressional delegation is going to have an increasingly western flavor with Gerlach and Weldon being gone. We won't see another major state-wide race until 2010 when Arlen Specter's Senate seat comes up and Governor Rendell retires. I'd look to see Pat Toomey and Melissa Hart (provided she doesn't lose today to Jason Altmire in her re-election bid, a distinct possibility) as the most likely Republicans to run: probably Toomey for Senate and Hart for Governor, while I'd expect to see Alyson Schwartz seeking to succeed Rendell. Republicans from the west vs. Democrats from the east.
Over in New Jersey, voters furious over the Democrats reign in Trenton will probably punish the Dems a little, but I still can’t see Bob Menendez losing. New Jersey is a Democratic state. I also don’t believe the polls are that close: they notoriously under-count Democratic voters every election.
Nationally, I think the Democrats will win and oust incumbent Republican Senators in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Ohio, Montana and Missouri. I think that the Republicans will narrowly hang on to their seats in Tennessee and Virginia, and I think Joe Lieberman will outlast Ned Lamont in what is, essentially, an intra-party duel.
If the Democrats win in Virginia than I think the unthinkable will happen: six incumbent Republicans Senators will lose. I don’t see that as likely. I think the Republicans will lose only one of the three Southern Senate races (Tennessee, Virginia and Missouri). The Senate will be dead-locked at 50-50, which means Dick Cheney is going to be a work-out.
I predict that the Democrats will pick up 20 seats in the U.S. House and narrowly attain the majority (221-214). It won’t be anything like 1994 when the Republicans captured 52 (or so) seats in the House and elected 71 freshmen. Redistricting has made sure that there aren’t nearly that many competitive seats in the country, which is a problem. I think that the parties use of the redistricting process has led to some major problems with our political process. The fact that there were only one or two competitive Congressional races in California, a state where about one in nine Americans live, is a major problem. How can we have a vibrant democracy when the parties rob the voters of a choice?
My predictions are conservative. The website Politics1 predicts the Democrats will pick up nearly 40 seats, which I suspect is too high because it doesn't take redistricting into account. I see picking up 20 or so seats this year would be akin to the Republicans victory in 1994: it is probably two-to-three times as difficult to win a House seat now as in ’94, so if the Dems get to a +20 pickup, it will be a historic victory for them.
In terms of the Gubernatorial elections, I predict that the Democrats will pick up the New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota, Maryland, Arkansas and Alaskan Governorships. I further predict that the Democrats will lose no Gubernatorial seats.
U.S. Senate: Democrats +5
U.S. House: Democrats +20
Governors offices: Democrats +8
I think that when everything is all said and done the Democrats will be very happy with the results today but will be disappointed that they couldn’t close the gap and seize control of the Senate, and their margin in the House is going to be razor-thin.
On the Republican side there will be a lot of anger and recrimination. Simply put, Denny Hastert will be ousted as Speaker of the House and Republican leader and Ohio Congressman John Boehner will assume the mantle of Minority Leader. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell will be the new Majority Leader, trying to keep the 50-50 deadlock in the GOP’s favor.
I think the election will end Rick Santorum’s Presidential bid and effectively end George Allen’s, regardless of what the outcome of his race with Jim Webb in Virginia.
If the Republicans get clobbered and lose 25-30 ... or worse ... seats in the House and six or seven Senate seats (they could lose eight) then there will be a lot of soul-searching in the GOP and probably an open rebellion against W’s leadership. Bush’s Presidency has been remarkable: he took the old Republican orthodoxy of limited government and pitched it out the window in favor of a theological conservative approach. Under W and Karl Rove the GOP’s philosophy shifted whenever tactical considerations required it. The Terri Schiavo matter is a terrific example of that: regardless of how you feel about the right to life issues involved, the decision of the Republicans in the federal government to directly intervene in what was clearly a matter of state law runs counter to everything that Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and even (to a lesser extent) Newt Gingrich said about what the governing philosophy of the Republican Party ought to be. The Bush Presidency has become the over-weaning caricature of Big Government that conservatives accused liberals of wanting: eavesdropping on your phone calls, spending your tax dollars on government programs and putting the budget into deficit, interfering in state issues. The Leave Us Alone philosophy of the Republican Party is gone, which places the Republican party's survival in the western reaches of the U.S., in places like California and the Mountain West, in real jeopardy. Today the Democrats should capture the Governorship of Colorado and score impressive victories in the lower races, perhaps capturing 1 or 2 U.S. House seats. In Montana Jon Tester ought to defeat Conrad Burns for the U.S. Senate. These are red states and the Republican Party there is really struggling because the theological bent of the GOP doesn't resonate with libertarian-minded voters there.
The direction Bush has taken the Republicans has been to put faith squarely in the center square of their philosophy, which has made the GOP more of a Southern / Midwestern political entity. How much of that is sincere and how much is politics? A little of both. W apparently became a born-again Christian in the 1980’s after essentially drinking his way through life, so I have no doubt that W’s faith drives his politics. However, Karl Rove is a smart political operator and evangelical voters are extremely reliable and passionate. They vote because they consider it their duty to do so. W’s re-election strategy was to try to push turnout amongst evangelicals instead of wasting time trying to convince moderate voters to give their man a look. And it worked: Bush got a better turnout from evangelicals in 2004 and took Florida in a walk. These days W is following the same strategy: notice that he’s been campaigning in small rural areas of states he won, like Iowa and Missouri, trying to drive evangelicals to the polls. It was a smart strategy in 2004.
If the Republicans take a shellacking at the polls expect there to be a lot of anger and recrimination inside the GOP. I expect to see mainstream conservatives point their fingers at the theo-conservatives and demand a move back to Reagan/Goldwater-ism. Look for John McCain, never a favorite of theo-cons, especially given the nasty stuff he said about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in 2000, to benefit. War hero, fiscal conservative, not nearly the cultural warrior W is, John McCain would attract lots of Democrats who liked what they saw in 2000 (as I did) and would have supported him over Al Gore (as I would have) and would give the Republicans the best chance of winning the White House.
Anyway, this will be the only time I talk politics ... for another two years. Tomorrow everyone tune in for the Wiz Kids Part XII. October 1, 1950, one of the most important dates in Phillies history, one of the team's greatest moments. Don't miss it.