Presume, for a moment, that Republicans have a really good election cycle this year: Control of the House shifts away from the Democrats, and a Republican (John Boehner?) prepares to become speaker. The Democrats lose, or almost manage to lose, control of the Senate (which they hold today by a nine-seat margin). Republican governors-elect and state legislators–elect prepare to take their oaths in state capitols across America.
What will our political landscape look like if that comes to pass?
The U.S. House of Representatives: The districts that change hands will most likely be the moderate ones, so the House’s Blue Dog caucus is likely to be much smaller. Of the current 54 members of the Blue Dog Coalition, 32 are in districts that McCain won; most of the 22 others are in districts where Obama won narrowly.
Many members of Congress who do survive a GOP wave will probably do so by the skin of their teeth and face uncertain prospects for 2012. On the one hand, the re-election bid of President Obama could drive up Democratic turnout. On the other hand, the Obama of 2012 is likely to face tougher sledding in swing districts; he won’t be able to run the same campaign as four years earlier, promising a net spending cut and running ads touting his bona fides as a moderate featuring Warren Buffett and Colin Powell.
Then, of course, there is the factor of redistricting. Demographics and polling guru Michael Barone examines that potential factor here. The governorships of Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin appear key, along with control of the legislative chambers in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Barone also notes that to maximize Republican advantages, Meg Whitman will need to be in a position to veto the Democrats’ most lopsided efforts in California. He adds that district lines redrawn to favor one party aren’t guarantees; over the course of the decade, voters move, attitudes change, and once-safe seats start drifting into the grasp of the opposition.
In July, the Republican State Leadership Committee — the national committee that tracks, coordinates, and leads GOP efforts at the state-legislative level — projected that Democrats would not take control of a single state legislative chamber in the country this year, and that Republicans would pick up four chambers, with twelve additional Democrat-controlled chambers in key states “in play.” Their assessment concluded, “Republicans have an opportunity to create 20–25 new Republican Congressional Districts through the redistricting process over the next five election cycles, solidifying a Republican House majority. In fact, 33 of the 75 most competitive congressional districts, as identified in National Public Radio’s June report, are located in [RSLC] target states this year. If [RSLC] achieves its goals, nearly half of the traditionally swing districts will be redrawn by Republicans before the 2012 election cycle. The remaining seats will either be subject to Democrat control or part of a partisan-neutral redistricting process.”
Some House Democrats who survive the 2010 onslaught will find themselves in even less favorable terrain in 2012, while Republicans who squeak by this year may find smoother sailing by Election Day 2012. In the meantime, a Republican speaker of the House could find himself with quite a bit of leverage over these nervous Democrats.
The U.S. Senate: The senators up for re-election in 2012 won election in 2006, a strong year for Democrats, who rode voter frustration with Iraq and outrage over the Jack Abramoff and Mark Foley scandals to many unexpected victories. These Democrats will, in all likelihood, find themselves facing a tough political environment. Retirement may seem like a tempting option.
In Nebraska, Ben Nelson has already felt the need to run ads explaining his vote for the health-care bill; his defense has already cost the DNC almost $1 million. In December, Rasmussen found that only 40 percent of Nebraska voters had a favorable opinion of Nelson, while 55 percent had an unfavorable view. In a world that has seen party departures and switches from Joe Lieberman, Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist, and Parker Griffith, one has to wonder how strong Nelson’s party loyalty will be in the coming two years.