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2010 Elections: Big Potential for Republican Governor, Redistricting Wins

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It is a recurrent conceit of Democrats and Republicans alike that a great political realignment that will produce a lasting majority lurks just around the corner. In the more than two decades since Ronald Reagan left the White House, the U.S. electorate has been divided roughly equally. But when President George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, his strategist Karl Rove interpreted the outcome as a harbinger of long-term Republican control. Rove wasn't alone in this view. With the GOP holding the White House and Congress and a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, some Democrats feared that all three branches of government might be irretrievably lost. Instead, the Democrats in 2006 regained both houses of Congress, a prelude to Barack Obama's victory two years later.

After the "change election" of 2008, the new fad was that the Democrats were the party of the future and Republicans the party of the past. Democrats and their cheerleaders indulged in puffy analysis about how Republicans were demographically doomed because their base was old, white, and male. In this realignment narrative, Democrats were ascendant because they were the choice of women, gays, younger voters, Latinos and independents. But with economic recovery stalled and independents disenchanted with the Obama administration, this theory looks increasingly half-baked. No one knows what the future holds, but with less than 80 days to go before the 2010 midterms, Democrats are scrambling to hold the House and keep Senate losses to a minimum. Charlie Cook, an independent political analyst, expects Republicans to gain between 35 and 45 House seats in November, more probably in the upper range of this forecast. They need 39 to retake the House.

Jerry Brown, Meg WhitmanWhether or not the GOP accomplishes this objective, Republicans are poised to make huge gains in statehouses. Democrats now hold 26 of the 50 governorships, with 37 of them on the ballot this year. Stuart Rothenberg, another independent analyst, anticipates that Republicans will pick up eight new governorships, giving them control of 32. Below the radar screens of these elections, Republicans are also optimistic about gaining seats in the 88 legislative chambers (of a total of 99) for which there are elections this year. These legislative elections will determine which party holds the upper hand in the 2011 congressional and legislative reapportionments that will be based on the 2010 census. Several legislative bodies are closely balanced, among them the Texas House, which Republicans control by a two-seat margin. Texas is the largest prize in the redistricting sweepstakes; it will gain four additional House seats (for a total of 36) because of population increases.

Republicans are favored to hold the Texas House and are in no apparent danger of losing any other legislative body they now control. Democrats, in contrast, are playing defense in attempting to hold onto at least a dozen chambers. "It looks dark for the Democrats," says Tim Storey, a political analyst for the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL). "They are the victims of their own success." Storey observes that the Democrats won heavily in the legislative elections of 2006 and 2008, putting them in control of many marginal districts. Now, with the pendulum swinging back, Republicans stand to gain some 500 legislative seats, most of which were lost in the two previous elections. Especially crucial in terms of congressional redistricting are the New York Senate, the Ohio House and the Pennsylvania House, all of which shifted narrowly to the Democrats in the 2008 election. Republicans also have opportunities to win control of the Alabama Senate and House (controlled by Democrats since the 1870s), the Indiana House and both the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly.

In governors' races the outlook for Republicans appears similarly bright. August surveys give the GOP candidates big leads in races for open Democratic governorships in Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming and also in Iowa, where a Democratic incumbent is running. Republicans hold smaller leads in gubernatorial races in five other presently Democratic states: Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Democrats are expected to pick up governorships in Connecticut and Hawaii, where Republicans are retiring. If the anticipated outcomes occur in all these races, Republicans would gain nine seats and Democrats two for a net GOP gain of seven. But two caveats apply. The first of these is a maxim of Richard Harwood, my late, great editor at The Washington Post: "Twenty-four hours is a long time in the life of a politician." The second is that there are eight open governorships -- four Republican and four Democratic -- that are too close to call in any of the polls.

The closest of these mystery states is California, where Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown are vying to replace moderate Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Democrats have a huge statewide registration edge, which favors Brown. Whitman, who has spent more than $100 million and plans to spend an additional $50 million, has the financial advantage, critical in the nation's most populous state, where political parties are weak and television advertising often decisive. Polls show the race within the margin of error. Democrats are assured of continued control of the Legislature in a state where congressional and legislative districts are at once lopsidedly Democratic and notoriously gerrymandered. California's legislators tend to regard voters as an inconvenience and carve up the districts to protect themselves.

"The real contests are in the primaries, where turnout is low, and the proportion of liberal voters on the Democratic side and conservative voters on the Republican side is high," observes Bill Hauck, president of the California Business Roundtable. Hauck, who has served as a key aide to a Democratic Assembly speaker and a Republican governor, notes that California's persistent gerrymandering discourages moderates from running. The lack of such moderates in either party has contributed to the recurrent dysfunction of the Legislature, particularly on fiscal matters. In 2008 California voters approved a ballot measure to take legislative redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature and vest this power in an independent commission. Legislators, outraged by this presumption of the voters, are trying to regain control this year with an initiative that would do away with the commission. Also on the ballot is an initiative that heads in the opposite direction by transferring congressional redistricting, now done by the Legislature, to a non-partisan commission.

The party in power in the White House has lost ground in all but two midterm elections since 1900. Most political analysis, however, tends to focus less on such historical patterns than on the big picture of presidents and their policies. Viewed through this prism, support for the Republican Party collapsed after President George W. Bush's re-election because of his unpopular attempt to privatize Social Security, perceived federal ineptitude in response to Hurricane Katrina, lingering public anxiety over the Iraq War, and ultimately the financial implosion. Similarly, the Democrats' current plight is blamed on the sagging job approval ratings of President Obama, which in turn reflect widespread dissatisfaction with the insipid economic recovery, uncertainty about the new health care plan, and concern about the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan. All this is true as far as it goes, but the temporal political fortunes of presidents are not necessarily portents of permanent change. "If Republicans gain 500 legislative seats, it will be a big victory for them, but they'll just be back to even," observes NSCL analyst Storey. In the words of the French proverb (if it's once again permissible to quote the French): The more things change, the more they remain the same. For better or for worse, our country is pretty evenly divided.
Filed Under: 2010 Elections

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11 Comments

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djmillerphd

Even if this prediction comes true, what would it change? A more evenly split political party? Bragging rights of how many seats were won? So what. How does that differ from what we currenlty have with 'filibuster everything?. The Republicans act like they are doing something extrodinary by picking up seats. History shows this is a continual balancing act of getting nothing accomplished.

August 24 2010 at 10:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to djmillerphd's comment
commandant

nothing beats bad everyday.

August 24 2010 at 2:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bookstuboo

All I ask is that people go to Snopes.com, click on politics, click on Obama and see all the lies being told about him. I could tell you but you would not believe it unless you see for yourselves. Please look! Then if you have any intellect you will wonder why this president has been subjected to an unprecedented attack from the right wing which are full of lies and 1/2 truths.I am sure that a lot of older republicans must be disgusted by the manner in which the current leaders of their party go about their business. Disagree but why denegrate?

August 24 2010 at 8:45 AM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to bookstuboo's comment
madsnake2

The sad thing is that it is the OLDER republicans that are driving the hatred. They want a white America like it was back in the 1950's. Shame on them.

August 24 2010 at 2:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Michael

It is not the lies that undercut Obama, it is the truths. The truth of unsustainable and intrusive growth of ineffective and overpaid Federal bureaucracies bleeding the taxpayers who suffer under their oppression, the truth of a congress owned by factions wishing to use the power of government to line their own pockets while disadvantaging others. This scheme collapses when he runs out of other peoples' money. It won't take long at this rate.

August 25 2010 at 6:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
marktolps

Who's putting out all of this "Democrats will be booted out" nonsence? In the over 300 primary runs completed so far, only 7 have been won by candidates of the newly formed "radical right"; The rest have been won by traditional beltway insiders. This doesn't look like a major groundswell of change from the traditional candidates to my feeble eyes (from staring at the CRT much of the day). It actually looks as if the media needs a story, and, since the republican party would like to see these pundits' predicitions come true, they're certainly not going to point out the disparity between the data and its interpretation. Meanwhile, the democrats are acting as if they also believe the pundits. Why? Guess it's just politics as usual!

August 24 2010 at 8:11 AM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to marktolps's comment
madsnake2

The media is driving it. Remember, the media is "big business". In today's world big business is more important than human beings.

August 24 2010 at 2:55 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Chuck

Meg has billions and earned every single one. She did not live on the tax payers time like many politician have done (Jerry Brown) She has created more private jobs and personally pay millions in taxes. Let her spend her own money. She fells she can do some good for California so let her. Jerry has been in way too long! Also, Meg will not own anyone any political favors when she is elected.... sounds good to me!

August 24 2010 at 6:16 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
asttwnjrgfalcon

they get full retirement after serving 1 term what do they care about us no term limits let them try to serve get reelected for 20 years then they get to retire im sure they will do a better job

August 23 2010 at 8:45 PM Report abuse +36 rate up rate down Reply
brian05487

What we need again is the Republicans to take the presidency. So we can start another war and put money in the richest 3 percent of americans. And gosh remember good ole boy Bush wanted to charge illegal aliens $8,000 and make them Americans. Gee just think if you are 65 pay $8k then start collecting SS,. then I guess it was going to be invested in the market -- darn it didn't go thru.

August 23 2010 at 7:13 PM Report abuse -86 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to brian05487's comment
madsnake2

That is exactly what they are planning. War against Iran. They will also start a new draft. They will send all the poor peoples sons. Go ahead and vote republican, then get your sons and grandsons (maybe even your daughters) ready to go. The rich need their tax cuts and your children.

August 24 2010 at 2:58 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Michael

Madsnake, You are miscasting the historical record. I was swept up in Lyndon Johnson's draft, and recall that the draft ended under a Republican administration. I also question the premise that a conscripted military places a greater burden on the bottom economic rung than a volunteer force. Conscription was used by Republican Lincoln in the war of 1861-65, by Wilson ("He kept us out of war" was his campaign slogan) in 1917-18, by FDR in 1940-45, by Truman in Korea, by Eisenhower in the cold war, and by LBJ in my time. An objective look at history shows that the odds of finding oneself conscripted were greater in Democrat administrations. I'm just sayin', those are the true facts.

August 25 2010 at 6:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
bpdarling

Meg Whitman is spending 150 MILLION of her own money...hmmm. Why do you suppose that is? Well, I have one suggestion Meg. Maybe if you spent some of those millions IN CALIFORNIA instead of sending them to an advertising agency OUT OF STATE.....the economy of California would really appreciate all those millions. She's trying to BUY the Governorship SOLELY for the purpose of political payback to the Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street big wigs who did favors for HER. She is worth BILLIONS, anad a lot of that money is in the Caymen Islands so she can avoid paying taxes on it. NOT the type of Governor we want in California. Sarah Palin has more experience than Meg Whitman does.....politically at least. At least Sarah managed to stay in office for a year before she QUIT, so make her MILLIONS, off the backs of poor tea party republicans.

August 23 2010 at 4:43 PM Report abuse -62 rate up rate down Reply
dmgg711

We need to put a term limit on the Legislatures. Senators terms limits to 2 same for U.S. Representatives. We need to break the 'dictorships' in both houses and have our elected politicians work for the people and not the special interest groups. No more 'party of no' and 'filibusting'.

August 23 2010 at 2:08 PM Report abuse +65 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dmgg711's comment
gregd01

I agree with term limits. Your last sentence is an apt description of the 2000-08 Democrats. Be careful what you wish for.

August 23 2010 at 4:52 PM Report abuse +45 rate up rate down Reply
fishlover

Two party systems working for the 3rd world, think twice before vote for them. nothing change.

August 23 2010 at 1:31 PM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply
sitokhan1

Repubs go on and on about "taking back Sacramento!!" But California's current governor IS a Republican! And If Billionaire Meg manages to win, even though she knows bupkis about government, she'll still have the same overwhelmingly Democratic legislature that stymied Arnold. The record shows Corporate CEO's are terrible in government, because their job by nature is dictatorial. They know nothing about consensus building or compromise. Bush's White House was the most heavy in corporate CEO's in history, and look how well THAT turned out!

August 23 2010 at 1:00 PM Report abuse -36 rate up rate down Reply

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