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On Friday, there were somewhat conflicting articles in the press which may help determine what happens this year in the 2014 midterm elections and in the 2016 presidential election, especially with regards to the Republican Party. The first report was about a Gallup poll which indicated that a record high was recorded for respondents who said they were dissatisfied with their current representatives in Washington. By that, one assumes not just House members, but also their Senators. It should come as no surprise that there is a tremendous anti-incumbent fervor in the electorate. But the results of that poll need to be tempered against political reality. This will not be some massive “kick all the bums out” wave election. It does, however, present some opportunities within the Republican Party to breathe some fresh life into the House and Senate. The Senate is a trickier proposition as 2010 and 2012 showed. This analysis focuses primarily on the House.
The Cook Political Report uses something called the Partisan Voting Index (PVI) to gauge the relative Republican or Democratic strength of any particular district. They base this upon presidential election outcomes. On the the other hand, this writer uses a slightly different system that uses, besides the presidential results by district, also the senatorial and representative voting patterns in each district. Thus, my “PVIs” are slightly different than those of Cook, but generally in agreement with only the number differing in most cases. If we look at these figures, you can delineate the districts. In districts that run 30 points either way, it would almost impossible to unseat the incumbent party. These are the districts occupied by the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Charles Rangel on the liberal side. It also explains why ethically challenged people like Rangel, Pelosi and Maxine Waters win reelection (and Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s former district). Those in the 20 point range are safe, but the incumbent party could face a challenge given the right circumstances, but for all intents and purposes, the district is likely not changing hands. When we get to the 10-20 point range, a perfect storm- a weak or ethically challenged incumbent facing a formidable challenger, for example- could tip the scales. Anything less than ten points either way and it is more or less a swing district. This is why you have (especially in the Northeast) some Republicans occasionally sounding like a Democrat.
My particular theory is that in those strong Democratic districts it really does not matter who the GOP runs so they should just throw caution to the wind and run the most conservative flame thrower they can find to get out the conservative message. As it gets closer and closer to that 0 point, then Buckley’s “the most electable conservative” mantra gets more important, especially if it is a definite swing district occupied by a Republican incumbent. That means that the more conservative elements in the GOP may have to just bite the bullet and accept that candidate who may not pass a litmus test, but who can win and keep control of the House in the hands of the GOP. Some may question what good is control of the House if this brand of the GOP is not conservative? Well, what good is conservatism without control of the House? In the latter case, the more conservative entity is even more outside looking in. With control, they are on the inside. That is, the ends (control of the House) justifies the means.
This becomes more important considering the following: of the 435 congressional districts, 14.3% of them are very strong Republican districts where there is little downside in running the most conservative candidate. Sometimes, the incumbent is the most conservative. However, among Democratic districts, nearly a quarter of them (21.8%) fall in this safe category. Additionally, there are more Republican districts than Democratic districts that can be described as “swing” (that is, less than 10 points either way)- 18.4% to 12.6%. One can question whether the ratings truly reflect the ideological leanings of the constituents of the districts, but this analysis is based on demonstrated electoral results. As an aside, I firmly believe that in the overall sense, Americans lean to the Right.
Ironically, it also disproves a fallacy perpetrated by the mainstream media that Republicans and conservatives are more ideologically driven and divisive than Democrats. On the whole, more Democratic districts are very safe than Republican districts even though there are more Republican districts (224-211) overall. Only 27% of Republican districts are staunchly Republican/conservative, but nearly half (45%) of the Democratic districts are staunchly Democratic/liberal. Thus, the blame for congressional partisanship in the House lays at the feet of the Democratic Party. The 2010 results bear this out. Just as the Tea Party gained strength in the GOP with the 2010 midterms, the more “conservative” Democrats- Blue Dog Democrats, if you will- were swept out leaving an increased proportion of liberals within the Democratic caucus in the House. The so-called battle within the Republican Party between the Tea Party faction and the “establishment” faction is more noticeable only because the less conservative Democrats are essentially gone, or were silenced by Pelosi. It should also be noted that of those remaining, several faced tough battles in 2012 and are not even running in 2014. Therefore, the Democratic caucus will get even more liberal in 2014.
Thus, the Gallup poll is interesting only because it is a general gauge of the electorate. They may be dissatisfied with their current representative, but that does not necessarily translate into the electorate in particular districts tossing out the incumbent and replacing them with someone of the opposing party. In those districts that rate 20 points either way where an incumbent is running for reelection (that is, they are not open races due to retirements), Republican incumbents face challengers in 20 districts and Democratic incumbents face challengers in 21 districts. What the Gallup poll may translate into is us seeing people like a Charlie Rangel being defeated in a primary for the Democrats or a Randy Neugebauer or Scott DesJarlais being defeated for the GOP in a primary. It should also be noted that not every- in fact, few- states have reached their filing deadlines (only three to date- Texas, Illinois and West Virginia).
Unfortunately, the media largely overlooked another poll out this week by Quinnapaic. In that poll, which was a generic ballot, Republicans outperformed Democrats by two percentage points. Although not a huge mandate by any means, it is one of the first major polling services to find these results to such a degree and to such a consistent extent. Although there may be disapproval of the current crop of representatives in Washington, there is also a tendency towards the Republican Party’s policies, or at least a somewhat consistent opposition to Obama and his policies vis-a-vis the Democratic leadership in Congress.
So what does it all mean? First, the most important tasks are the most immediate- retaining control of the House and gaining control of the Senate. That is the bottom line in 2014. This will lay the groundwork for 2016 and the White House which is the only way anyone is going to correct the biggest challenge of our time (contrary to Obama’s economic inequality class warfare rhetoric)- getting rid of Obamacare. It means that Tea Party candidates and supporters may just have to bite the bullet and accept less than the ideal conservative member of Congress. But, that dynamic works both ways as “establishment” Republicans need to stop treating, acting, and talking about Tea Party people as the “enemy.” A candidate like Tom Cotton in Arkansas- a person who appeals to both sides- may be the best of the lot. I would throw in Ben Sasse of Nebraska also (personal note: if Sasse does not win the primary in Nebraska, I may rethink my party affiliation). It is bad enough we are fighting the White House (and IRS and FBI) and the Democratic Party and the media; we don’t need to fight one another. That is way too many battle fronts to be opening and a recipe for defeat.
It means that Republican candidates must stick to the message which is economic liberty, replacing Obamacare with something less intrusive and cheaper, and creating jobs. Naturally, the legislative agenda will intrude at times in things like immigration reform. If Boehner has any balls in this area, he should just foot drag until after the midterms. That is, he should steal a page from the Obama political play book.
Which brings me to a final point- the alleged controversy over Mike Huckabee’s remarks before Republicans. Obviously, the Left has totally mischaracterized his statements and taken them out of context, twisted them, then repackaged them. Yet, we on the right act as if we have never seen this from the media in the past. But, this begs the question as to why Republicans would leave themselves open to these attacks. Not that they should walk on egg shells in every utterance, but sticking to the message is never a losing strategy. Most of us here at Redstate, for example, know what Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock were saying in 2012 or, at least,what they were trying to say. But imagine the outcome if Akin had simply answered: “Everyone knows my position on abortion and I am pro-life. My record speaks for itself. Now, can we please talk about health care reform and jobs?” Yes…yes: he would have been attacked for dodging the question, but a better worded press release would have been the best strategy especially since he was consistently ahead of his opponent by double digits. Instead, we have a Claire McCaskill in the Senate. Imagine if Huckabee had just stopped before talking about “libido” and “sex drives.” As perhaps the hottest (!!) Republican on television- Andrea Tantaros at Fox News-said, Republican men should just not use the words “birth control” (unless in the context of the Obamacare mandated coverage for religious groups or employers) and definitely not use the word “libido;” its just creepy. OK- sorry for sounding creepy.