The 2014 Midterm Elections: The House Races Thus Far- Part 1 of 2
Unlike the past series of articles I did for the 2014 gubernatorial and Senate races where they were broken down by region, this will be done in two entries. The reasons are several. First, leading into the general election in 2014, I will likely do, as I have in the past, a state-by-state analysis of the races. That would do the issue greater justice and likely be more accurate since by then the candidates are set and the issues defined. Second, mainly because of redistricting and the natural sorting of the population, there are actually very few truly competitive congressional districts of the total 435 districts. Third, some states like California, Florida or Texas would likely dominate the conversation if treated on a regional basis. And that cuts both ways. Of the 53 California congressional districts, perhaps only four are of interest.
I will describe the method of analysis in more detail in the next entry. What emerges, however, is the polarization of districts where the liberal districts became more liberal and the conservative districts became either more conservative or more moderate. The reasons should be obvious. The liberal areas are centered in the metropolitan regions of any state and especially around college campuses, or college towns. Thus even in a state as conservative as Kansas, you will find a bastion of liberalism in a city like Lawrence. In Washington, there is a large swath of geographical territory that is clearly conservative, but sparsely populated. Thus Washington state politics is dominated by a small swath of territory around Seattle.
Secondly, there is no denying that the population of major metropolitan centers of the old-guard- places like Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Detroit- have been declining or at least not keeping up with national population growth. Other metropolitan cities like Phoenix, Houston, Miami, Orlando and Atlanta have been growing due to immigrants moving in, or through internal demographics. From the old-guard cities, the population, which tends to be on the liberal side, is moving into the immediate or outer suburbs of these population centers which traditionally tend to be more conservative. With this migration of the population, the once conservative areas become less so due to the influx of the more liberal new members of that community while all that is left in the metropolitan centers are liberals. Conversely, there is no migration of conservatives into traditionally liberal areas. Conservatives tend to stay put which is why states like Idaho, Nebraska and Wyoming show average growth, but a strengthening of their conservative base.
The effects are seen in electoral results as recently as 2010. The mainstream media portrays Washington politics as more polarized now than in the past. Yet look at who they place the blame on. They inevitably mention that moderate Republicans are a thing of the past- people like Lowell Weicker or Clifford Case and more recently, Lincoln Chaffee. Never is the trend towards polarization laid at the feet of liberals. In fact, a great case can be made that with the Republican sweep of 2010 in the more local House races, the more moderate Democrats in the House were swept out of office leaving only the most liberal members from the most liberal districts. Nancy Pelosi’s minority leadership status in the House is a classic case in point. Under the same circumstances in the past, a person like Pelosi who ruled over a purge of her party from the House would suffer the consequences in her leadership position. Yet after 2010 and again in 2012 when they failed to retake the House, what was left- the Liberals- voted her back into Minority Leader status with nary a fight. In fact, those who did lead the fight- like the more moderate Heath Shuler of North Carolina- were purged and ostracized which resulted in their eventual electoral defeat. While the media portrays this polarization as the fault of some concerted Right Wing strategy orchestrated by the Tea Party, the polarization, such that it exists, is more correctly laid at the feet of the surviving liberals in Congress. And incidentally, to portray Washington as more polarized now than at any time in the past is a ridiculous assertion and as proof, I offer up, for example, the Civil War or the 1964 battle over civil rights legislation, not to mention the Vietnam War era.
Originally, Nancy Pelosi asserted that the Democratic Party is of the belief that they can recapture the House in 2014. Yes, and I have some oceanfront property in Kansas for sale. If they did not retake the House in 2012 with Obama at the top of the ticket, then their chances are even less in 2014 when the party in power in the White House traditionally loses seats. Given the scandals associated with that person in the White House and, by proxy, his identification with and protection by the Democratic Party, it is interesting to note that Pelosi has since backed off those assertions. In fact, assuming the GOP does not shoot itself in the proverbial foot, there is a very realistic chance the Democrats will lose the Senate- not by much, but a loss nevertheless.
In order to retake the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party would have to flip 17 seats into their column. Given the reality of the 2010 round of redistricting, it is difficult to see how they can come remotely close to that number of seats. In fact, my analysis based on presidential votes by congressional district from 2012 and then averaged against those votes from 1996 to 2012 coupled with the current party’s representative’s votes- their local popularity, if you will- I can see the Democrats taking no more than 5 seats from Republicans at the outer edge of the analysis and, more likely, only a net two seats from the Republicans. Although this would buck the trend of the President’s party losing House seats in a midterm election, it nowhere comes remotely near the number of seats needed to wrest control of that chamber from Republicans. And if the Democrats minimally buck the midterm trend, it would be nothing new as it happened in the Clinton and in the Bush II Administrations. Thus, one would realistically conclude that we, after the 2014 midterms, are stuck with another two years of John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi in leadership positions.
That is not to say that the Democrats will not pull some upsets along the way, but Republican incumbents will squeak out victories also. In essence, in certain states like California and New York, where the Republican Party as far as national office goes has suffered serious defeats, there is nowhere to go but up. For a George Miller in California whose district underwent changes, there is a John Barrow in Georgia whose district underwent changes. Both are targeted by the opposition party. Of course, the party in power has more targets by virtue of their majority status. Hence, you will hear of more “vulnerable” or “threatened” Republicans this cycle because there are more of them just as we heard of more vulnerable, threatened and targeted Democrats in 2009-2010.
What should give Republicans hope is the same thing that swept them into power in 2010- Obamacare. As that debacle is implemented and people feel the real world effects of over 2,000 pages of legalese- much left unread before passage through backdoor means- there will be a backlash against the party that champions Obamacare as the president’s legacy piece of legislation. Many of those congressmen standing behind Obama as he signed Obamacare into law still occupy the halls of Congress. Additionally, many of the social issues should be non-issues come November 2014 especially with the Supreme Court ready to rule on the issue of gay marriage, voting rights, and affirmative action. Of course, the abortion debate will be portrayed as a “war on women,” which truly analyzed is an insult to all women. Defining the “true woman” as one who follows the NARAL/Planned Parenthood line does a serious disservice to women everywhere. In effect, they and their congressional supporters, are the new paternalistic forces over women.
As most readers should be aware, in midterm elections the party in power in the White House traditionally loses seats. The Republican electoral success in the 2010 midterms was the greatest net gain in seats for Republicans in the post-WWII era at 65 seats thus gaining control of the House. This record was achieved primarily because of a backlash against the passage of Obamacare and the aggressive liberal agenda of Obama. Given the scandals plaguing his second term coupled with the implementation of Obamacare where the law’s unforeseen effects will be felt by real people in the real world, these dynamics will more than offset that erosion of the the large GOP majority in the House- if Republicans stick to the issue. Obamacare, despite an organized effort by Democrats to embrace a policy and program that most polls indicate Americans dislike, is at the end of the day the Achilles heel of the Democratic Party.
In states that are traditionally red with growing populations and large Republican congressional delegations, there are obviously more GOP targets. Thus, one would expect Democrats to make minimal gains this time out in states like Texas and Florida, or at least hold the line. Conversely, in traditionally blue states with stagnant or declining population- primarily due to the slow growth of the older metropolitan areas- one would expect the GOP to make minimal gains or at least hold the line. This includes states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. Where the potential problems enter the picture is in the high population growth states whose growth is due to a burgeoning Hispanic population. These include Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and California. Hence, it would behoove the GOP to tout Republican principles especially stressing parental choice in education- consistently the #1 concern of Hispanics. They should also find candidates who are Hispanic because there ARE conservative, Republican Hispanic potential candidates. It should also be noted that in those states listed above, if population trends continue on their current trajectory, all but Colorado stand to gain a congressional seat in 2021. With a little more of a push, even Colorado can gain a seat.
The bottom line is that Pelosi’s optimistic assertions are yet another example of hot air blowing out of San Francisco and Washington. Practically every political pundit from Nate Silver to Larry Sabato, Charlie Cook and Rothenberg all see Republicans keeping control of the House in 2014, as does this writer. Unless something seriously dramatic happens between now and November 2014, that is the reality of the situation.
Next: Where the key races are.