One more reason the Democrats may be toast this fall
Democrats are apprehensive about this year’s midterm elections.
They should be.
Every indicator points to Republican gains in Congress. Two reasons are well known: President Barack Obama’s unpopularity and the historical record of midterm elections, when the president’s party almost always loses seats.
The third major reason is the two-four-six rule. Those are the different base years for different offices: two years for the House of Representatives, four years for most governors, six years for the Senate. These base years dictate how vulnerable each party is.
Here’s how it works: House members last faced the voters two years ago, in 2012, when Obama won re-election. With Obama’s strong voter turn-out, Democrats gained eight House seats. In the 2014 midterms, however, with their expected older and whiter electorate and Obama’s low poll numbers, Democrats are facing a tough November.
Turning to the Senate, 33 of the 36 seats being fought over in November were last up in 2008 — when Obama first took the White House in a stunning victory. Democrats picked up eight Senate seats. (The other three Senate races are special elections for partial terms.)
When a party picks up seats, as Democrats did in the Senate in 2008 and the House in 2012, the gains tend to occur in swing states and districts. The party has difficulty defending those seats the next time they are on the ballot. That may be particularly true now since the president’s popularity has dropped to 41 percent and shows no signs of recovering.
The vast majority of House districts are safe for one party or the other. They were designed to be safe. So far this year, according to five leading ratings sources, only 42 of 435 House seats look competitive. Democrats are defending 25 of the competitive seats, Republicans 17. Which means that Democrats are likely to lose more House seats than Republicans.
As for the Senate, Republicans need to gain six seats to take over. Thirteen Senate races are rated as competitive. Eleven of those seats are currently held by Democrats, and two by Republicans. Seven of the 11 competitive Democratic Senate seats are in states that the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried in 2012 (Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia). Those states are not friendly territory for Democrats. Neither are Georgia and Kentucky, the two competitive Republican seats. Democrats are right to be worried.
Governors are the one bright spot for Democrats this year. Almost all governors are elected for four-year terms, most in midterm years. The base year for governors is 2010, a Republican landslide. The GOP picked up six statehouses. There are 36 governors up this year. Fourteen governors’ races are rated as competitive — of which nine currently have Republican governors. Six of those GOP governors are in Obama states: Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Several of those states are presidential battlegrounds. (Florida! Ohio!) Having governors in office will boost Democratic prospects in 2016. Moreover, if, as is likely, Washington remains gridlocked, more and more policy initiatives will shift to the states.
If Obama is stymied during the last two years of his term by a hostile Republican Congress, you can expect to see Democratic governors increasingly take the initiative on Medicaid expansion, minimum wage hikes, same-sex marriage, voting rights and climate change.
The tables will turn in 2016, though. Senate seats up in 2016 were last up in 2010 — a banner Republican year. Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats in 2016, Democrats just 10. Six of the Republican seats are in states Obama carried in 2012. All the 2016 Democratic Senate seats are in Obama states. If Republicans take the Senate this year, they’re going to have a tough time keeping it in 2016.
The two-four-six rule that dooms Democrats in 2014 may just save them in 2016.
PHOTO (TOP): President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
PHOTO (INSERT 1): (L-R) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) lock arms and sing “We Shall Overcome” during a ceremony to award posthumously the Congressional Gold Medal to civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, at the Capitol in Washington, June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Erns
PHOTO (INSERT 2): House Speaker John Boehner listens during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 26, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing