Sunday Political Brunch: The Intersection Of Math And Politics
Sunday, January 14, 2018
Mark Curtis, GoLocalPDX Contributor
I'm a frequent Political Analyst for "The Brian Copeland Show" on KGO-Radio AM-810 in San Francisco, and have been on the station for nearly two decades, no matter where I am working on the political trail. This week Brian was asking me about the chances of Democrats regaining control of the House and Senate in 2018. It's a great, but complicated question. Let's "brunch" on that this week:
"The Politics of Math" – One of the political bromides I've been preaching for years is that, "In politics math is just as important as ideology!" I don't care how good or bad your idea is as a politician, if you don't have the votes, it isn't going to happen. Political parties have positions known as "whips" who count the internal vote to see whether you have enough "yes" votes to pass everything from health care reform, to a border wall. Public opinion doesn't always matter. If you have the votes to pass legislation, you'll put it in the hopper and vote it up!
"Incumbency is King" – According to the Washington Post and Gallup polling, 90 percent of U.S. House Members and 91 percent of U.S. Senators get reelected. That's a huge advantage. But when seats are vacated – usually through retirement – all bets are off. Many toss-up seats could go to either party. In Alabama, appointed Sen. Luther Strange would probably have retained the seat had he not been challenged in the GOP primary by former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Strange's loss in the primary, opened a victory path for now Senator Doug Jones, (D) Alabama, over Judge Moore.
"Can Democrats Win Back the U.S. House?" – Given what we've just said, you'd think Republicans would have a huge advantage. The problem for the GOP is that 42 House members have already signaled they will not run for reelection. Of those leaving Congress, 28 are Republican; 14 are Democrats. Right now Republicans have a 46-member lead in the House. Given the vacancy rate, Democrats have a good chance to cut the margin in half. Is half enough for control? No, but with enough moderate Democrats and Republicans working together you might have a philosophical majority on some issues.
"Can Democrats Retake the U.S. Senate?" – Democrats may have a big advantage for gains in the House; but they have the opposite problem in the Senate. The minority party is defending 23 seats, whereas the GOP is defending only eight incumbent seats. Making matters worse for Democrats, at least five of their contested seats are in states that now strongly lean Republican. I am still predicting a Republican net gain of three seats in the U.S. Senate, despite President Trump's unpopularity.
"Why Census Matters" – Party lines are the difficulty for Democrats in that individual states have redrawn their Congressional and Legislative districts as of the 2000 and 2010 census. Despite the Clinton and Obama presidencies, the nation has had a significant conservative sea change since Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980. Right now, 32 state legislatures and 34 Governors mansions are held by Republicans. It will be hard to draw district lines counter to the trend.
"The Lesson of 1994" – In 1994, Democrats had a huge advantage, especially after having President Bill Clinton win in 1992. The Democrats held a 54-seat majority in the House and a nine-vote majority in the Senate. The odds of winning either chamber were looking impossible. But Rep. Newt Gingrich (R) Georgia and Rep. Dick Armey, (R) Texas devised a "Contract with America" in which they spelled out an agenda for a Congressional takeover. They not only won the House, they took the Senate, too. So, even though Republicans hold a 46-seat margin in the House right now, and a one-vote margin in the Senate, Democrats have a shot at winning both chambers.
"Arizona" – For Republicans to retake control of the U.S. Senate, they really need some races that are anomalies. The Alabama race that propelled Senator Doug Jones (D) Alabama into the Senate is a case in point. A Democrat won in a solidly Republican state with a divide-and-conquer phenomenon. The Republicans Party could not circle the wagons and hold a safe GOP seat. Watch Arizona for the same potential. Controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio has entered the race for the seat being vacated by Senator Jeff Flake, (R) AZ. At least three or four people are running in the GOP primary, meaning someone could win with just 26 percent of the vote. Like Alabama, if an unpopular GOP candidate wins the primary; the seat may be up for grabs.
"Why All of this Matters" – Politics is not just a game about majorities; it is also a game of momentum. A massive tide can wipe out a previously powerful trend. It can be a tidal wave that no one sees coming, with consequences for generations. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter looked to be a lock just a month before the election. But a lousy economy; a poor performance on the international stage; and a poor showing in the only debate sunk his ship. Not only was Ronald Reagan elected, but the GOP took control of the U.S. Senate; and with conservative Democrats, held philosophical control of the House. Could a similar wave happen in the 2018 Congress? Yes, it could, with ramifications through the 2020 Presidential campaign and beyond. Stay tuned!