At the outset of the election campaign I argued here that the Democrats simply could not win back the House of Representatives, because gerrymandering had created so many safe seats. I believe that I counted about 30 seats in the whole country where the margin of victory was 10% or less last time, some of them Democratic. As of October 1 that prediction looked pretty good, but it no longer does. According to the excellent web site electoral-vote.com, linked below, the Democrats are now poised to win 240 seats to 195 for the Republicans. They have essentially mushroomed in two stages, one during the first half of the month apparently thanks to the Foley scandal, and the other in the last week, perhaps in response to terrible news from Iraq. The site also prints the results of all latest House polls and adds the results of the last election, and thus we can see specifically where Democrats have overcome the odds.
Much of the country apparently remains uncompetitive, at least in the eyes of the pollsters. No polls have been taken in Alaska or Alabama, for instance, where every race is thought to be a foregone conclusion. The first shock comes in Arizona’s first district, where Ellen Simon is running very close to Republican incumbent Rick Renzi, who won last time by a 59%-36% margin. Republican J. D. Hayworth won by 60% - 38% in 2004, but he barely trails his opponent in their last poll. Amazingly, Democrat Gabrielle Giffords leads by 53%-41% in the eighth district, even though the retiring Republican won it with 60% of the vote last time. California is one of the most heavily gerrymandered states in the country, but there, too, three Republicans who polled in the 60% range last year have lost much of their edge, and one of them is actually behind.
In Colorado’s 4th district Republican Marilyn Musgrave, a relatively close winner last time, has been consistently behind. Democrat Ed Perlmutter seems poised to win the 7th district, which went Republican by 57% last time. Connecticut Republicans Robert Simmons and Christopher Shays won by relatively narrow margins last time, and both seem destined to lose this time, as does Nancy Johnson, who stands to receive $2% of the vote instead of the 60% she got last time. Florida’s 13th has gone from a 10% Republican victory in 2004 to a small Democratic lead now. The Republicans won 62% of the vote in Florida’s 16th District in 2002 but their candidate trailed by seven points on October 13. Clay Shaw took the 22nd with 63% of the vote last time, but trailed by two points in the last poll. Republican Tom Feeney ran unopposed last time in the 24th but led by just two points on October 21. Georgia has only one close race, in which the Democratic incumbent seems likely to repeat a relatively narrow victory.
Some of the most interesting results come from the Midwest. In Iowa’s open 1st district the Democrat, Bruce Braley, gained 15 points during October to reach a 49%-42% lead—this in a district that last went Republican by 55%-43%. In the second district a 20-point Republican victory in 2004 is now a virtual tie. In Indiana’s first, won with a 70% majority by a Republican last time, a Democrat narrowly leads in the last poll. An October 29 Zogby poll shows Democrat Tammy Duckworth pulling away in Illinois’s 6th, which the retiring Republican last won with 56%. In the 10th the last poll showed Democrat Daniel Seals leading Mark Kirk, who won with 64% of the vote last time, by two percentage points. Speaker Dennis Hastert carried the 14th with 69% of the vote last time, but an October 10 poll—three weeks ago—had cut his lead to 10 points. In Indiana’s 2nd, Republican incumbent Chris Chocola, a 9-point winner in 2004, has trailed substantially in every poll taken all summer. Incumbent Republican John Hostettler, in the eighth district, is in exactly the same situation and appears doomed. In the 9th Republican Mike Sodrel barely won in one of 2004’s only close races, has trailed in most polls, but eked out a two-point lead in the most recent one.
Republican Anne Northrup won Kentucky’s 3rd with 60% of the vote last time but has trailed in most polls, most recently by eight points. In the 4th Republican Geoff Davis won by 10% last time but trails by 3-4 % in the last two polls. There are no serious Republican candidacies in Massachusetts, and Maryland, a closely matched state, must be one of the most gerrymandered in the country. Not one of Michigan’s 15 districts is rated close enough to be worth a single poll. Minnesota’s first is another district where the Republican’s 24-point margin of victory last time has shrunk to almost nothing, although he barely remains ahead in the last poll. The last three polls suggest that the GOP will hold on to the open 6th. Missouri, with a razor-sharp Senate contest indicating a narrowly balanced electorate, doesn’t have a House race worth a single poll either.
North Carolina textile factories have been hard hit by NAFTA, and Republican Robin Hayes, who won the 8th District 56%-45% last time, has trailed by 7 and 4 points in the last two polls. Republican Charles Taylor, another 10-point victor last time, seems certain to lose in the 11th. Republican Jeb Bradley has lost perhaps 15 points in New Hampshire’s first district, but that still leaves him 5 points ahead. A 20-point margin last time for his fellow Republican Charlie Bass in the second district, however, will apparently not be enough to prevent Bass from losing—he has trailed substantially in every single poll. In New Jersey’s 7th, Republican incumbent Mike Ferguson has seen his lead go from 15 points in 2004 to 3, but still leads. That’s the only competitive contest in the Garden State.
By this time readers will not be surprised to learn that Republican Heather Wilson, who won New Mexico’s first district by a modest 8 points in 2004, appears to have no chance against Democrat Patricia Madrid in the state’s only competitive race. Only in Nevada could the Republican lose 20 points in two years, but still lead by about 8 (the 2nd district.) In New York as all over the Northeast, Republicans this year are an even more endangered species. Incumbent Peter King looks safe in the 3rds district, although he leads by just 7%, compared to his 26% margin in 2004. But Republican Sue Kelley, who won by 2 to 1 in the 19th last time, has trailed, albeit narrowly, in the last two polls. And in the 20th District north and south of Albany, Kirsten Gillibrand leads Republican incumbent John Sweeney by about 10 points in most recent polls, even though Sweeney polled 66% last time. Living just across the border, I have seen the tv ads for that campaign, and they are the dirtiest I have ever encountered. Republican Ray Meier is doomed in the 24th, as is James Walsh in the 25th and Randy Kyul in the 29th. Another Republican incumbent, Tom Reynolds, now leads in a seesaw battle in the 26th.
More of the same in Ohio’s first, where Republican incumbent Steve Chabot won by 20 points last time and trailed by 2 in an October 26 poll. His Republican colleague Jean Schmidt won by 44 points last time but is neck and neck with Victoria Wulsin now, trailing in two of the last four polls. Republican Pat Tiben’s margin has shrunk from 24 points to 5 but still leads in the 12th. Republican Deborah Price trailed Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy in the 15th by 8 points on October 10, the last reported poll, despite having won 60% of the vote last time. The Democrats lost the open 18th district by 2-1 last time but their candidate, Zack Space, led by 20 points on October 29. Oklahoma and Oregon are two more states without a single race close enough to waste money on a poll.
As we reach Pennsylvania, the pattern around the country has become clear: the Republican Party is in deep, deep trouble in the richest and most educated parts of the country (see the posts I did on this subject in late 2004.) Republican Melissa Hart won 63%-36% in 2004 and is holding on to a 4-point lead in the 4th district. Republican Jim Gerlach won a very close race last time and has consistently trailed in the 6th. Republican Curt Weldon has gone from a 19% victory in 2004 to an 8-point deficit in an October 10 poll, the last one available, next door in the 7th, and Republican Mike Fitzpatrick just fell narrowly behind in the 8th. Republican Don Sherwood, who ran unopposed last year in the 10th, has trailed by 9% in each of the last three polls. It is not surprising that overwhelmingly Democratic Rhode Island and overwhelmingly Republican South Carolina have no close races, but it is yet another disgrace that delicately balanced Tennessee doesn’t have a single seat that is being seriously contested.
Texas’ approximately 30 years as a two-party state (about 1964-94) are, for the time being, over, but the Democrat leads in Tom Delay’s old 22nd district, albeit with huge numbers of undecided or confused voters. In Virginia Republican Thelma Drake won by 10% last time and has essentially held on to a narrow lead throughout the election, as has Frank Wolf in the 10th. Republican Cathy McMorris has kept 5 points of her 20% margin in 2004 and so far that is enough to win, but Republican Dave Reichert, a much closer winner in 2004, has a narrower lead. In Wisconsin’s open 8th, the only seriously contested state in another closely divided state, Democrat Steve Kagen now has a 6-point lead over Republican John Gard—despite a 70% Republican victory last time. (I questioned a Washington Post writer who identified this seat as a close one many weeks ago. I apologize—I was wrong.) In Wyoming a 13% Republican margin has shrunk to 4% as of October 25th—so far, not close enough.
Readers obviously know I am a Democrat and may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned any threatened Democratic seats. The reason, basically, is that there are none. The Republicans do not actually lead in a single Democratic-held district and only a few are remotely close. I honestly do not know if there has ever been a Congressional election in American history in which one party did not lose a single seat.
The lesson of all this seems to be to be fairly clear, and rather frightening. Whatever is the matter with Kansas, to paraphrase Thomas Frank, it hasn’t spread beyond the South and the very rural Midwest. Not only the two coasts, but also the entire old industrial heartland from Pennsylvania all the way through to Minnesota, are about to administer a crushing defeat to the Republican Party. The fundamentalist-neoconservative alliance which has run the country for the last six years is being decisively repudiated by all the best-educated and wealthiest sectors of the country. In one sense that is good news, in another it is bad. The culture wars will have a new winner after November 8 but the country will be more divided than ever.
I don’t know how much Howard Dean has to do with the impending House victory (and the possible, although unlikely, Senate one), but his 50-state strategy obviously had a point. The Democrats are going to win largely because they attacked apparently secure Republican positions not only in the Northeast, but even in places like Colorado, Indiana, Arizona, and Kentucky. Next should be the turn of states like Missouri and South Dakota. Between 1/7 and 1/5 of the electorate, in many areas, is about to switch its votes. Exit polls will tell us who they were. Like the Democrats in 1930, today’s Democrats are poised to get back into power—and like those Democrats, they have no idea what to do with it when they do. Meanwhile, much of the United States remains in drastic need of democratic reform. The gerrymandering in states like Tennessee and Wisconsin is a disgrace, and doing something about it should become a national priority.