The New Political Landscape–The House is Up For Grabs

Going into the budget negotiations, Barack Obama was at a disadvantage. He not only negotiated with the terrorists, he gave in to their demands more than he should have. Now the tables are turned. Obama has shown that he will not repeat that mistake, and the Republicans have shown that they will give in before making the United States dafault. The Republicans have come under so much criticism for even making this a possibility that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have both said they will not cause the government to default on its debts. All of this could have been avoided if Boehner had allowed the full House to vote on a clean budget bill from the start. In the end Boehner did exactly that, preventing the Republican majority in the House from crashing the economy with the help of Democratic votes. Being in an improved bargaining position could also help Democrats over the next year. Voters are more likely to vote for Democrats if the party appears strong, and less likely to vote for Republican if they continue to see them as the party of fiscal and political irresponsibility.

The political question now becomes whether the strong anti-Republican sentiment in the polls will hold until next year. It is possible that this will be forgotten by most voters. It is also possible that this could cause a sizable number of former Republican voters to permanently alter their view of the party, leading to a wave election in 2014. While all the pundits will weigh in, the truth is that nobody knows what will happen a year before an election.

That said, here’s what a few pundits are saying. First from National Journal:

The government shutdown and debt crisis has made 14 House seats more winnable for Democrats, according to new independent ratings released Thursday from The Cook Political Report. There are now—for the first time this cycle—more Republican seats “in play” than the 17 Democrats would need to win in order to take the majority in 2014.

The ratings from the highly regarded political handicapping group, whose founder, Charlie Cook, is also a columnist for the National Journal, is the latest sign that the shutdown has seriously damaged Republicans.

“Democrats still have a very uphill climb to a majority, and it’s doubtful they can sustain this month’s momentum for another year. But Republicans’ actions have energized Democratic fundraising and recruiting efforts and handed Democrats a potentially effective message,” Cook’s David Wasserman explains. Ten Democratic seats remain “toss ups,” meaning the party would probably need to win at least 20 seats to take back the speaker’s gavel…

It’s way too early to know if these movements will hold until November of next year, but its unusual for Cook to move so many districts in one direction all at once. Democrats were losing altitude in generic ballot tests until the shutdown, only to see their numbers climb 5.5 percentage points over the past two weeks. But thanks to gerrymandering, analysts say Democrats need somewhere closer to a 7-point generic ballot lead to retake the House.

From Stu Rothenberg:

The political fallout from the confrontation is very real. Republicans got almost nothing out of the deal to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling except, of course, that they lost another 10 percentage points in their favorable rating and looked less like an organized political party and more like a disorganized, confused rabble.

Republican operatives are worried that the showdown will improve Democratic House recruiting considerably for 2014, and it could well damage GOP fundraising, both among small-dollar donors and the party’s bigger hitters.

Small donors will be disenchanted that Republican officeholders caved on both the shutdown and debt ceiling, while the larger donors, who tend to be more pragmatic, are likely to sit on their cash for fear that the GOP will do something else crazy to threaten the economy and the party’s electoral prospects.

GOP insiders point out that while the party clearly has lost some ground in recent years among swing voters because of its position on cultural issues, the party’s great strength — at least up until now — was that it was generally seen by independents as fiscally responsible and prudent on economic matters. Now that argument may be more difficult for Republicans to make.

Harry Enten described how difficult it will be for the Democrats to take control of the House, but also pointed out the difficulty in making predictions this early:

The indispensable Cook Political Report has only has 13 Democratic-held seats listed in the relatively competitive tossup or “lean” category. Of course, Democrats need to take 17 seats to win the House. The ratings reflect, among other things, a lack of strong challengers for the Democrats and lack of retirements by Republicans.

The thing is that expert ratings (like most polling) are not all that predictive a year out from an election. At this point in the 2006 cycle, there were 17 Republican seats in the lean or tossup categories (pdf). That’s well short of the 30 seats that Democrats would ultimately take from Republicans. At this point in the 2010 cycle, there were 28 Democratic seats in the lean or tossup category. Republicans, of course, went onto gain 63 seats in 2010.

It’s not until later in the cycle when individual seat rankings become quite useful. That’s when potential challengers and incumbents read the national environment and decide to run or not. Chances are that if the 4-5pt Democratic lead holds, the individual seat rankings will reflect that edge. For now, individual seat ratings probably aren’t all that helpful to understanding which way and how hard the wind is blowing.

If Republicans remain as unpopular a year from now as they are now, Democrats can certainly exceed expectations. Another possibility is that the Republican margin will shrink dramatically in 2014, making it easier for the Democrats to retake the House in 2016 with their chances even better in a year with a presidential election.

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