GOP Has a Good Chance at Winning the House in November
"We're headed for a big Republican election," said Stuart Rothenberg, a Washington, D.C., political analyst who publishes the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report and is a columnist for Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. Rothenberg gave his assessment to the 2010 Government, Regulatory & Compliance Conference in Washington held by the Insured Retirement Institute, a trade association that represents the annuity industry.
"I think they have a good chance to win the House, but they're not there yet," he said. addig that GOP chances of taking over the Senate are slimmer.
Republicans, who need 40 seats to win control of the House, are "going to make major gains in the House; major gains in the Senate," Rothenberg said. "Democrats could lose the House," he said. While he stopped short of making a clear prediction that Republicans will win the House, he predicted that Democrats will lose at least "a couple of dozen" seats to the Republicans.
Rothenberg counts 68 Democratic House seats in play, compared to only 11 Republican seats, which contributes to the Republicans' advantage. As a result, "Democrats are going to be more desperate to get anything and everything through now," he said.
Polls Show Republicans, Democrats Approximately Even
The Senate math is harder for the GOP. There are 57 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning Independents in the Senate, and 41 Republicans, meaning the GOP would have to win 10 seats to take control of that body. He currently sees Republicans gaining between five to eight Senate seats, but the GOP could have a greater advantage if Dino Rossi runs in Washington State, where he twice ran for governor unsuccessfully, and if former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is able to win the Republican Senate primary, he said. Further, polls show declining support for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who could face a tough reelection fight from former Republican Rep. Tom Campbell.
Polls of which party people expect to vote for in November now show Republicans and Democrats approximately even, with 44% supporting each party. But those numbers represent a sharp decline for Democrats, who previously have enjoyed margins of 51% supporting them compared to 41% supporting Republicans.
"We constantly are seeing growth in fear and negativity and pessimism," Rothenberg said. "A lot of it is the lack of a job turnaround. That's what I think most of it is," he said. Despite indications of economic recovery, the unemployment number has been stuck at about 9.7%.
There is increasing skepticism about whether the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package Congress passed last year at the request of President Obama has been effective, "and until we get a turnaround in jobs, I'm not sure we're going to get a turnaround in mood."
That negativism favors Republicans. Not only have recent polls showed declining support for President Obama, with 46% of the public now saying they think he's doing a good job and 51% saying he's doing a poor job, the percentage of people who believe the country is headed in the wrong direction have climbed to the upper 50s or higher, Rothenberg said.
People's opinions about the federal government's effect on their daily lives have become sharply more negative as well. A poll released last week by the The Pew Research Center for The People & The Press found that 38% said the federal government has a positive effect on their lives and 43% felt it was negative, a sharp decline in positive attitudes in recent years, Rothenberg said. Further, 39% of the public supports a bigger government with more services, while 50% say they want a smaller government with fewer services, a big change from when Obama was elected and the mood was in support of more government.
Unpopular Legislators Unlikely to Change Many Minds
In the midterm elections, Democrats are likely to argue that they have acted on health care reform, and they'll face pressure to pass the financial service reform bill now being considered. Democratic plans to spend $50 million on turning out party voters and selling them on health care reform aren't likely to succeed, Rothenberg predicted. "We have just spent a year on health care reform. People now have opinions on health care reform. You have to change those opinions. It's very difficult to change once people who have decided on something," he said.
Moreover, relying on lawmakers to sell health care reform is tantamount to "child molesters trying to sell health care reform," considering the public's extremely low opinion of Congress. "You can't take unpopular people and put them out in the public and try to sell an issue that people already are skeptical about," he said.
Republicans, who have scored recent victories in the governors' races in Virginia and New Jersey, as well as the U.S. Senate race in heavily Democratic Massachusetts for the seat of late liberal icon Ted Kennedy, will try to stoke public anger about a government that they say is veering too far to the left, taking too much control and spending too much money.
Americans Don't Make Sharp Turns
But a Republican victory in Congress isn't likely to hurt President Obama, Rothenberg said. "As a matter of fact, I think if the Republicans have a good year, it's probably better for the president," he said. Obama has another two years for the economy to improve, and he would be able to "triangulate" by blaming Republicans if his policies go awry, similar to the way Bill Clinton was able to deal with a Republican congressional victory in 1994 and go on to win reelection in 1996.
Moreover, if Republicans win, "They're going to think that's because the country's made this dramatic turn to the right, just like Democrats thought the country had made a dramatic turn to the left," in the 2008 election, Rothenberg said. "The country doesn't turn very dramatically. People just want stuff to work out. It's not about ideology for most Americans."
Demographic trends still favor Democrats, he said. Midterm elections tend to get higher turnouts of whites and older voters, while presidential elections draw voters who support Democrats.