I’ve seen articles the last couple of weeks ranging from predictions that the Republicans are looking forward to shutting down the government over the budget and debt ceiling to predictions that they are just making noise to appease the Tea Party but would not dare antagonizing Republican businessmen by crashing the economy. I suspect that these contradictory story lines come down to who the reporter happened to talk to that day. The Hill even has a story today claiming some Republicans fear they will lose control of Congress “if they botch fiscal talks.”
Democrats need to net 17 districts to take back the House in 2014, widely considered a significant hurdle to overcome.
But the party has identified “30 districts where the [GOP] incumbent [won by] less than 10 percent and an additional 18 districts that we think can perform better” in a non-presidential election year, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said recently.
And it’s in those districts — where Republicans don’t have a deep base of voters to rely on — that a repeat disaster like the fiscal-cliff fight could matter.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said if Congress experiences the same sort of protracted inaction that occurred during the fiscal-cliff negotiations, the blame could fall on Republican shoulders.
“What you don’t want to see is the sort of gridlock and shutdown we had with respect to the fiscal cliff, because public opinion would turn against [House Republicans], which would likely put those swing districts at risk,” O’Connell said.
Hopefully this analysis is correct that there are enough seats where the Democrats have a chance. The conventional wisdom is that the Republicans have a considerable advantage at maintaining a majority due to both gerrymandering (with some Republicans bragging about this) and a Republican advantage due to Democratic votes tending to be more concentrated in a smaller number of urban districts.
The conventional wisdom can be wrong, and the historical trend for the party controlling the White House to do poorly in their sixth year is far from an ironclad law. What if we have a combination of economic improvement under Obama and a growing realization of how badly the Republicans have harmed the economy? Perhaps the more reasonable fiscally conservative voters will realize that policies centered around tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy is one cause of deficits, not the cure. Maybe some will even start to realize that limited government should mean limited intrusion in the private lives of individuals, not limited activity in areas where government is needed, and not limited regulation where regulation is necessary.
Yes, this is a long shot, but there is room for hope. The alternative is to assume that the Republicans will remain firmly in control of the House and make that a self-fulfilling prediction.