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Apr 10, 2006 4:49 pm

Rothenberg on This Year's House Races

If 2006 were 1976, Nancy Pelosi would now be selecting artwork for her move into the Speaker's office. The 15-16 point lead that Democrats have in the generic congressional poll would suggest that the party should easily be able to capture the 16 seats needed to regain a majority in the House.

But, as Stuart Rothenberg points out in this morning's Roll Call, while the Dems"are competing seriously in places that they haven’t for years," their"recruiting is also falling short in some districts they’ve repeatedly targeted, and most of the competitive districts this time — not counting open seats — have been targeted time and again."

Anyone wondering why the Republicans remain likely to retain control of the House in 2006 should glance at the 2004 election returns in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The latter two states have voted Democratic for president in each of the last four elections, and currently have Democratic governors. Ohio has been one of the three or four most closely contested states in each of the last four presidential elections. By all rights, you'd expect that MI and PA would have Democratic majorities in their House delegations, and Ohio would be closely divided between the parties.

Instead, Republicans comfortably control all three delegations, a result of post-2000 census gerrymanders: Ohio, 12-6; Pennsylvania, 12-7; and Michigan, 9-6. More important from the standpoint of 2006 are the margins in individual contests. In 2004, the closest GOP re-election in Ohio was by 20 points; in Michigan, the closest GOP margin was 15. Pennsylvania had only one House race closer than 10 points (Republican Jim Gerlach's close win over Lois Murphy, who's running again in 2006 and right now is probably a slight favorite to take the seat.)

In short, in 2006, Democrats could reduce the Republican margin of victory by 10 points in each and every House district in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and have a net gain of one seat from the three states. (And that one-seat gain would almost certainly be wiped out by a likely GOP pickup in the Dem-held but open Ohio 6th District.) So even though it's possible for the Dems to retake control of the House, the wave needs to be a very strong one indeed.

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Andrew D. Todd - 4/11/2006

The thing about gerrymandering is that it is like financial leveraging or margin trading. It works fine when you are winning, but when you start to lose, it turns against you. Suppose that in each Ohio congressional district, 50,000 people who voted Republican in 2004 change their mind and vote Democratic, a grand total of 900,000, or about 17% of the electorate. That is broadly commensurate with the fall in the president's approval ratings, and the time still remaining until election day.

Title of Repub Demo my_call Total
1st district 173,430 116,235 -f 289,863
2d district 227,102 89,598 -s 316,760
3d district 197,290 119,448 -f 316,738
4th district 167,807 118,538 -f 286,345
5th district 196,649 96,656 -= 293,305
6th district - 223,842 -d 223,987
7th district 186,534 100,617 -f 287,151
8th district 201,675 90,574 -s 292,249
9th district 95,983 205,149 -d 301,132
10th district 96,463 172,406 -d 287,212
11th district - 222,371 -d 222,371
12th district 198,912 122,109 -f 321,046
13th district 97,090 201,004 -d 298,094
14th district 201,652 119,714 -f 321,366
15th district 166,520 110,915 -f 277,435
16th district 202,544 101,817 -= 304,361
17th district 62,871 212,800 -d 275,671
18th district 177,600 90,820 -f 268,420

I have added the annotations:
-s safe republican seat
-= close
-f falls to democrats
-d already democrat

Total 2,650,122 2,514,613 5,183,506

Total: 1,750,122 3,414,613

Democrats would take anywhere from 14-16 seats out of 18. On this basis, I think the Democrats have quite a good chance of getting a two-thirds majority in the House. The Senate is a more difficult proposition, because only a third of the seats are in play in any given election. I don't see how the Democrats can get a two-thirds majority in the Senate, but I think that they probably will get a majority. I think, however, that they have a good chance of getting the sixty seats in the Senate necessary for cloture.

By my reckoning, this gives the Democrats the power to expeditiously put through bills which the President can veto. They cannot change the laws, for example, revoking the Patriot Act. They can refuse to vote funds for the war. If the President vetoes their budget, the result will be deadlock. They can start impeachment proceedings, but not secure a conviction. To go beyond this point, the Democrats would need the backing of some Republican senators.

If you are interested, you might work up a spreadsheet for all 535 members of Congress and test various assumptions.