Brainroom Memo: You Decide 2006 Preview

Almost all of the political experts and insiders predict Republicans will suffer losses this November. A number of experts and others think that the Republicans could lose control of the House of Representatives. Democrats need to gain 15 seats to retake control in the House. The climb necessary for Democrats to retake the Senate is considered to be a little more steep, but not impossible if things don't go better for the GOP before now and Election Day on November 7.

In early August Charlie Cook, political analyst and editor of the Cook Political Report, predicted the possibility of an "electoral rout." Cook said, "In a very large tidal-wave election, as this one appears to be, it would not be unusual to see all toss-ups go to one party, along with a few out of the leaning column as well."

In a later National Journal column Charlie Cook wrote,"Time is running out for Republicans. Unless something dramatic happens before Election Day, Democrats will take control of the House. And the chances that they'll seize the Senate are rising toward 50-50." He continued, "The electoral hurricane bearing down on the GOP looks likely to be a Category 4 or 5, strong enough to destroy at least one of the party's majorities. The political climate feels much as it did before previous elections that produced sizable upheavals, such as in 1994, when Democrats lost 52 House seats, eight Senate seats, and control of both chambers."

Cook concluded that, "unless something happens to interrupt current patterns, the House will turn over and the GOP will hang on to the Senate by a thread."

And Charlie Cook isn't alone among the marquee handicappers when making such predictions. "All things being equal, if current trends continue, the Democrats take the House," predicted Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, in early August. The rest of the month of August didn't change Rothenberg's mind. The August 25 edition of the Rothenberg Political Report states, "Our latest race-by-race review of Congressional districts around the country convinces us that a Democratic wave is building and that the party is poised to take control of the House of Representatives in the fall. The only question now is the size of the November wave."

Many Democrats are of course extremely optimistic. "We have to go back to 1974 (during Watergate) to find such a favorable environment,'' says James Carville, who was Clinton's 1992 campaign manager. "If we can't win in this environment, we have to question the whole premise of the party.''

But the professional analysts and the Democrats aren't the only ones with such an outlook. Many conservative voices are echoing these predictions. An August 31 editorial in the Wall Street Journal stated, "With a little more than two months to go before midterm elections, the polls show Democrats well positioned to win the House after 12 years out of power….Republicans stand a better chance of holding the Senate, albeit with some losses there too."

Republican pollster Bill McInturff, a partner and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, said "The national mood is like that of sweep elections…People are angry about Iraq, about gas prices, about health care.''

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and the primary force behind 1994's "Contract with America," has recently made comments that demonstrate that even party insiders foresee trouble on the horizon.

"Are Republicans in trouble? Yes," Gingrich said on August 30. "Do we really need to have a good October? Yes." "Republicans can win but they can't win without substantial changes," Gingrich concluded.

Columnist Robert Novak wrote the following in Human Events on August 30: "Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats to win control of the House. At this point, our seat-by-seat analysis suggests that they are very close. To repeat: They will attain their goal if they can keep their own members safe and spend the money to attack a greater number of Republican incumbents, to create more holes in the dike as Election Day approaches."

The Republican leadership does continue to declare that the party isn't beaten. Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said on August 30, "I disagree with Bob Novak. I think that if you look at it race by race — I spent yesterday — I had our entire field team in from all over the country, went through race by race, and the way I looked at it today, we would keep both the House and keep both the Senate."

True there are a large number of "safe seats" these days, even more than in elections past, but that fact does not get Republicans completely out of the woods.

Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, said "But if people are exercised enough and unhappy enough and indignant enough, even safe districts can be taken by the opposition party, in some instances simply because the Republican loyalists stay home."

"The environment for the majority party is extremely bad," says David Rohde, a professor of political science and director of the Political Institutions and Public Choice Program at Duke University.

Unless the political landscape is greatly transformed Democrats will gain seats in the House and almost certainly in the Senate as well. Most analysts expect Democrats to come up slightly short as they attempt to regain control of the Senate where they need to gain six seats to retake control. The possibility that Democrats will reclaim control of the House is considered much more real.

Even the Republican Party leadership tends to play up the possibility of losing the House as they attempt to motivate their supporters to get out and vote. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman says, "The stakes are enormous." Mehlman has tried to strike fear into the hearts of Republican voters by stating, "Picture Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who called the president 'an incompetent leader' and 'morally irresponsible.'"

The chairman of the Republican National Committee knows that telling the story of an election with an uncertain outcome might motivate voters from his party. Congresses do not change party control very often. Republicans have controlled the House since 1994. The very real possibility of a change in party control in one or both houses of Congress makes the 2006 elections important to watch.