GOP Election Odds Keep Improving

Washington Matters

GOP Election Odds Keep Improving

GOP gains in Congress will force Obama to compromise or accept gridlock.

With the fall elections drawing closer, the outlook only gets more grim for Democrats. Whether fair or not, majority party Democrats are blamed for much of what’s ailing the nation: the oil rupture in the Gulf of Mexico and chaotic efforts at managing the crisis beyond BP’s response, sustained high unemployment, the slow-going economic recovery and towering federal deficits.

There’s also growing concern over Afghanistan and the appearance of years-long mission-creep plus continuing doubts about the new health care law and its ultimate cost and worth.

Americans are getting more and more angry, evidenced in poll after poll and the rock-bottom approval ratings for Congress. They’ll take it out mostly on Democrats in November because they’re in charge.

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Note that independents and moderates, who amount to roughly 30% of the electorate and who were critical to President Obama’s election, are trending toward Republicans by a 60% to 40% margin, a complete flip from two years ago. Democratic Party election strategists are already focusing more on limiting losses, a telling sign of election bloodletting in store.


Come January, more Republicans will take seats in Congress. The party will come close to winning back House control. It may even do it if the breaks fall its way and if the anti-Washington, antiestablishment mood takes even fuller root this summer and fall.

The GOP needs a net gain of 39 seats to win control of the House. Already, about 25 to 30 seats appear likely to switch from Democratic to Republican. The current party breakdown is 255 Democrats and 178 Republicans, with two vacancies.

In the Senate, figure on Republicans gaining four seats. That will mean a weakened Democratic majority, forcing Democrats to seek compromises on energy legislation, domestic spending, immigration, labor issues, aid to states and more. The current party breakdown in the Senate is 59 Democrats and 41 Republicans.

The real battle will be over open seats. The fact is that, despite the sour public mood, the overwhelming majority of incumbents will be reelected in November.


They nearly always are, even when anti-Washington fervor is running high. In 1994, for instance, when the GOP took control in a historic landslide election led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, more than 90% of incumbents were returned. When House control switched back to Democrats in 2006, the reelection rate was 94%.

This year, Democrats will likely lose open Senate seats in North Dakota, Delaware, Illinois and possibly Indiana. But the party looks good to pick up one or more open GOP-held seats in New Hampshire, Ohio, Missouri and maybe even Kentucky.

The most vulnerable incumbent Senate Democrat is Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, despite her dramatic primary runoff win last month. Odds are she’ll lose in November to GOP nominee John Boozman, a popular conservative congressman, who’s backed by a largely unified GOP base in the state. Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Colorado is also struggling.

Although he looked like he was on the ropes a couple of months ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada received a new lease on life when Republicans nominated Sharron Angle, a Tea Party conservative. Her controversial proposals, such as privatizing Social Security and veterans’ benefits, and her support for nuclear waste disposal in the state are giving voters pause. Moreover, Reid will unleash $30 million in campaign spending in the next few months. He rates 60-40 odds to win.


Vulnerable House Democrats are mostly Southern conservatives representing districts that went for John McCain in the 2008 presidential race. It’s in this batch of swing districts that the GOP will likely flip 10 to 20 seats in its quest for House control.

Even if Democrats retain control of Congress, GOP gains will redefine the Obama presidency. The president will have to acknowledge a measured loss of national appeal, and that will take some thunder out of his “Change We Can Believe In” rhetoric. He will have to negotiate and engage more fully with Republicans (not just one or two in the Senate) to get anything at all done next year.

And as jockeying for 2012 begins, that may prove a difficult task. The GOP may prefer to just say no to almost everything Obama proposes, gambling on a big 2012 presidential election win