September 11, 2006

And Now, the Rest of the Story

Hatched by Dafydd

I hope most of us have heard the great Paul Harvey, who at 88 is amazingly still alive and (I think) still broadcasting. He is famous for announcing the page number of the copy he reads from; he uses page numbers to indicate the type of news he's reading at the moment.

He's also famous for telling what seems to be a complete anecdote... then saying, "and now, the rest of the story." Harvey then continues the tale, often completely reversing the impression you might take from the first part. It's an effective technique that teaches an important lesson: you really must look at all sides of a major issue before arriving at a legitimate conclusion.

In particular, this is true in elections. But to date, we've only heard the first part of the story of the upcoming mid-term contest: seats that Democrats might take away from Republicans.

We have not yet heard about seats that the GOP might steal from the Democrats. While this number is smaller than the other, it's not negligible; and every seat that flips from left to right negates a seat that flips the other way.

The Democrats need a to flip a net 15 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate to capture those bodies; but if four or five Democratic seats go Republican in the House, then the Democrats need 19 or 20 to go the other way. And in fact, there are a number of Democratic seats that are, at the very least, in some danger, according to the Los Angeles Times:

But Republicans have also identified a handful of vulnerable Democratic incumbents, and are hoping to pick off a few of them to thwart a Democratic return to power.

"Everyone's focused right now on where Democrats can gain seats, and properly so — it's a Democratic year," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "But if Republicans can steal even a few seats from Democrats, it will probably eliminate the chances of a Democratic takeover.

Amazingly enough, Times highlighted a couple of such shaky Democratic seats: GA-3, currently held by Rep. James "Jim" Marshall (D, 70%); and GA-12, held by Rep. John Barrow (D, 75%).

This year, Barrow, a former county commissioner from Athens, and Marshall, a former mayor of Macon, were left with districts that had fewer registered Democrats. Barrow even had to leave Athens, his longtime hometown and, as the home of the University of Georgia, a Democratic redoubt, because it was left out of the boundaries of his redrawn 12th District. He moved to Savannah in January.

In November, Barrow will again face off against Max Burns, a conservative farmer who served in the House for one term before being defeated by Barrow in 2004. In the 8th District [sic; Jim Marshall is in the 3rd district, according to Michael Barone's Almanac of American Politics], Marshall is facing Mac Collins, a trucking entrepreneur who was a congressman from 1993 to 2003 and lost a bid for U.S. Senate in 2004. [Did the 3rd and the 8th district swap maps in the recent redistricting?]

When the Republicans captured the Georgia state legislature in 2002 (state senate) and 2004 (state house), they were able to reverse 130 years of Democratic gerrymandering. They redrew the redistricts to reflect the state's increasingly conservative voters... and that means that both Marshall and Barrow have much harder battles than two years ago to retain their seats.

The two call themselves "conservative" Democrats; but that's not how they have voted. Their 2005 ratings from the Americans for Democratic Action and the American Conservative Union -- the premier left- and right-wing vote-rating organizations, respectively -- are here:

Georgia 3rd and 12th district representatives
Representative District ADA "liberal" rating ACU "conservative" rating
Jim Marshall 3rd 70% liberal 46% conservative
John Barrow 12th 75% liberal 40% conservative

By contrast, in the 3rd district, Jim Marshall is running against former Republican Rep. Mac Collins, who had a 100% conservative rating from the ACU in 2002 (his last year in office); while in the 12th district, Barrow is up against former Republican Rep. Max Burns, who had an 88% conservative rating in 2004, his last full year. Compared to this, the incumbents' ratings of 46% and 40% respectively don't look very conservative at all.

Here are some of the other races where Democrats could lose seats, per the L.A. Times:

Others include veteran Iowa Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, a septuagenarian who has had health problems and who is facing a well-funded Republican challenger; Rep. Melissa Bean, an Illinois freshman whose victory was aided by the lackluster campaign of her 2004 rival; and Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas, whose district includes President Bush's Crawford ranch.

Larry Sabato still rates the two Georgia races as "leans Democratic;" on the other hand, Sabato is notoriously pessimistic, nearly always underestimating Republican victories. The fact remains that Democrats will very likely lose at least some House seats in November.

What about the Senate? Again, while there are definitely Republicans who are endangered -- with the recent rise of Sen. Rick Santorum (PA, 96%) in the polls, the most threatened Republican (if you want to call him that) senator is probably Lincoln Chafee (RI, 12%) -- there are also Democratic Senate seats that are in some danger. I list them here, more-or-less in order of vulnerability (in my opinion):

  • Robert Menendez (NJ, 100%), appointed by Jon Corzine to replace himself when he was elected governor two years ago; former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, jr. is currently running ahead of Menendez... and this was before the U.S. attorney announced that Menendez was under investigation for corruption!
  • Sen. Paul Sarbanes (MD, 100%) is retiring, leaving an open seat; depending upon the outcome of the primary (which is tomorrow), Republican Michael Steele will face either black activist Kweisi Mfume or establishmentarian liberal Rep. Ben Cardin (95%): if Cardin wins, the black voters may well be angry at him, and Steele has already made some inroads in this group; but if Mfume wins, many white voters who ordinarily vote straight Democratic will be appalled and frightened of this radical and may well vote for Steele. Either way, Steele has a very good shot at the seat.
  • Mark "Evacuatin'" Dayton (MN, 100%) is departing for greener pastures, leaving his seat open; recent polls (late August) have Democrat Amy Klobuchar leading Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy (MN, 84%) by 7-10 points. But there is plenty of time for Kennedy to catch up such a minor difference. If there is no Democratic "wave," then I suspect he will, and this seat will flip.
  • Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow (100%) faces Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard. A few months ago, Stabenow led Bouchard by 20 points; now (September 7th, Rasmussen) she leads by only 8%. But it will be tough to catch up, as she is well liked by Michigan Democrats. Still, this is another race to watch.
  • Maria Cantwell (WA, 95%) is still way ahead (17%) in polls by Rasmussen (9/7) and SurveyUSA (8/28-29); but a Republican poll by Strategic Vision at the end of August (25-27) had her ahead by only 5%. Again, what really matters is whether there is a Democratic "wave." If not, then Republican Mike McGavick, the Safeco turnaround king who managed Slade Gorton's successful 1988 campaign, has a good shot at catching her.
  • Sen. Ben Nelson (NE, 55%) is running for reelection in one of the reddest of red states; the last poll was conducted in July, I think, and Nelson led Pete Ricketts by 26%. But I've heard that Ricketts could be improving significantly. Consider this still a long-shot, but still one to watch.

Bottom line: Larry Sabato is right that this will be a "Democratic year," but I think not by anywhere near as much as people -- especially Democrats -- have been supposing. At this point, Big Lizards sticks with our earlier prediction of a net GOP loss in the House of no more than 9 seats, and in the Senate, no more than 2.

Be of good cheer!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 11, 2006, at the time of 8:19 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Bill M


I hope you are right about Mike McGavick, but I don't think I'd bet on it. This is a tough state for a Republican right now, and Seattle, the center of the Democrats' strength, has a history of delivering enough votes to make the Democrat the winner. Ask Slade Gorton and Dino Rossi.

Not that I think they would cheat or anything (he said, tongue firmly in cheek), but the chances of King County allowing this election to go any other way but Democratic are pretty slim. Frankly, I wouldn't trust King County Elections to deliver an honest count for dog catcher if it was a partisan race. I can hope, but....

The above hissed in response by: Bill M [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 11, 2006 9:45 PM

The following hissed in response by: yetanotherjohn

I think that the chances of the GOP actually gaining a seat or two in either chamber is at least as good or not better than the democrats gaining majorities in both chambers.

I expect to see some serious spin going on between now and November that walks back the "06 is the democrats '94" meme.

The above hissed in response by: yetanotherjohn [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2006 1:56 PM

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