Everybody who follows national politics–except Karl Rove–“knows” that there is general agreement that a Democratic wave is going to sweep the Republicans out of control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Maybe I just got off the bus from Mars, but I don’t see it happening.
Is it possible for the Democrats to capture the House? Sure. Is it probable? No.
Consider these three Web sites that evaluate all 435 House seats as to whether they are Safe Republican (or Democrat), Leaning Republican (or Democrat) or Toss-Up. The terminology varies but the results are very similar (218 seats needed for a majority):
Solid Republican 177
Likely Republican 20
Lean Republican 15
Probable Republican baseline: 212 seats
Solid Democrat 183
Likely Democrat 11
Lean Democrat 10
Probable Democratic baseline: 204 seats
Toss-up: 19 seats
Under this scenario, Democrats must win 14 of the 19 toss-up seats to reach a total of 218 needed for a majority.
Safe Republican 164
Republican Favored 26
Lean Republican 19
Probable Republican baseline: 209 seats
Safe Democratic 183
Democrat favored 12
Lean Democrat 14
Probable Democratic baseline: 209 seats
No clear favorite: 17 seats. Whichever party wins at least 9 of the toss-up seats will control the House.
New York Times
Safe Republican 190
Lean Republican 23
Probable Republican baseline: 213 seats
Safe Democrat 187
Lean Democrat 21
Probable Democratic baseline: 208 seats
Toss-up: 14 seats. Democrats must win 10 of these 14 seats to reach the magic figure of 218 seats necessary for a majority.
Why are so many pundits predicting a Democratic wave? Because the pundits tend to look at the president’s low approval rating, Jack Abramoff’s corruption, the failure of the Iraq war, the Mark Foley scandal, and the historically poor performance of president’s party in the sixth year of his term and conclude that the stars are aligned for a Democratic win. My sense of politics is that these factors alone are not enough to create a wave. The minority party has to nationalize the election in order to persuade the voters that it is time for a change, the way Republicans did with their Contract with America in 1994. The Democrats have done nothing to present the nation with an alternative to the Republicans; they have been content to let the Rs screw up. But incumbency and money trump notions of a surly national mood unless that mood is so overpowering that the voters can’t wait to throw the rascals out. The most interesting fact about this election is how many more House seats are in play–somewhere between fifty and sixty–than anyone anticipated a few months ago. But many of these races are illusions. Republicans candidates have seen their once ample leads shrink. That doesn’t mean they are going to lose.
Incumbency. Money. Get-out-the-vote tactics. Republicans have the advantage in each of these categories. That’s why I think they will hold the House–barely–on November 7.