November 17, 2004


Why the Democrats Won't Win Back the Congress for a Long Long Time (Robert "KC" Johnson, 11/15/04, History News Network)

Between 1932 and 1980, Democrats possessed majorities--generally comfortable ones--in both houses of Congress in all but four years (1947-49 and 1953-55). Since the Republicans seized control of the Senate in 1980, however, neither party has possessed a stable majority. Though Republicans' six-year Senate reign ended abruptly in 1986, the Democrats ceded back control of the upper chamber in 1994, only to regain it when Vermont senator Jim Jeffords left the GOP in 2001.

Now, however, the GOP Senate majority seems unlikely to vanish any time soon. This year's contests intensified a trend of an increasing number of states becoming non-competitive for Senate Democrats. The South Dakota election received the most national attention, but the most historically significant contests occurred in Alaska, South Carolina, and Oklahoma.

In Alaska, Republicans were burdened with a candidate, Lisa Murkowski, appointed by her father, the state's unpopular governor, to a Senate vacancy; she trailed in every public poll taken for the campaign's duration. In South Carolina, Republican Jim DeMint ran an openly homophobic campaign; while pro-gay sentiments, obviously, are not popular in the Palmetto State, a Senate nominee openly asserting that gays should not be allowed to teach in the public schools comes across poorly. DeMint also saw his central economic initiative (replacing the income tax with a national sales tax) shredded in Democratic campaign commercials. In Oklahoma, Tom Coburn rivaled Alan Keyes for this year's looniest Senate candidate, capping off his effort with an unsubstantiated claim that Oklahoma principals were forbidding more than one girl at a time from having a bathroom pass, to prevent lesbian activity in the girls' room. A Democratic operative could not have picked more inviting targets against which to run.

Moreover, in all three states, the Democrats nominated appealing centrists with solid track records. And yet, with the Republicans nominating weak candidates (in Oklahoma and Alaska, at least, the weakest possible candidates) and the Democrats offering their strongest conceivable challengers, the Republican prevailed with ease in each state. It's hard to imagine how a Democratic Senate candidate could win a race in Alaska, South Carolina, or Oklahoma in the foreseeable future.

Alaska, South Carolina, and Oklahoma are among the dozen states that now seem out of play for Senate Democrats. They join Kansas, which last elected a Democratic senator in 1932; Wyoming (1970); Utah (1970); Idaho (1974); Mississippi (1982); Texas (1988); Virginia (1988); Alabama (1990); and Georgia, which has moved sharply to the GOP since 2000. Compare that list to the number of states where a Democratic Senate candidate begins as a prohibitive favorite: Hawaii, which last elected a Republican senator in 1970; Massachusetts (1972); New Jersey (1978); Maryland (1980); Connecticut (1982); and, perhaps, Illinois, although it did elect Republican Peter Fitzgerald in 1998.

Republicans therefore start the quest for a Senate majority with 24 unassailable Senate seats, Democrats with only 12. To reach the 51 seats required for a majority, the GOP needs to capture only 27 of the 64 seats (42 percent) in competitive states, while the Democrats require 39 of the 64 (61 percent).

Making those odds even longer for the Democrats: states that lean Democratic are far more likely to elect GOP senators than states that lean Republican are likely to vote for Democratic senators. Maine and Pennsylvania both have voted Democratic for president in the last four elections; both currently have Democratic governors; yet both also have all-Republican Senate delegations. Since Republican Bill Cohen ousted Democrat William Hathaway in 1978, Republicans have won 7 of the 9 Senate contests in Maine. In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, a Democrat hasn't won a regularly scheduled Senate election since 1962. As states like South Carolina, Georgia, and Oklahoma vote down all Democratic Senate candidates because of their party level, Democrats' inability to win states such as Maine and Pennsylvania becomes an enormous liability to the party's chances to obtain a majority.

The Democrats' unlikelihood of securing a Senate majority forms part of a broader national realignment, in which more and more "Red states" are rejecting the party across the board.

That George Bush won 30 states even in his losing effort in 2000 suggests that the GOP's natural base level is 60 Senate seats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 17, 2004 8:35 PM

Republicans "seized" control of the senate in 1980?

I thought it was 86 when it flipped.

Posted by: Sandy P at November 17, 2004 8:38 PM


Reagan carried the senate in '80.

Posted by: oj at November 17, 2004 8:42 PM

I remember that the GOP had only 43 Senate seats after the '92 election, because shortly after Clinton was elected with 43% of the vote, he referred to the GOP senators as an "obstructionist minority." The irony was almost too much.

Posted by: PapayaSF at November 17, 2004 8:58 PM

But it's that word "seized". I mean, really. Can't those people just get over it and MoveOn™ already?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 17, 2004 9:41 PM

" unpopular governor" of Alaska. I thought it was just the nepotism of that move that got people riled. And I guess he can't be that unpopular if she won, right?

"openly homophobic campaign" The "love that dare not be criticized" strikes again.

"DeMint also saw his central economic initiative ... shredded in Democratic campaign commercials" I guess I missed the times when the Dems normally praise GOP initiaives in their campaigns.

At which point I give up. What's the point of reading something this stupid?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 17, 2004 9:48 PM

I'm sure Mr. Johnson cried similar tears in 2002 when South Carolina Democrats gaybaited against the Republican Senate nominee (unmarried) Rep. Lindsey Graham.

Posted by: AC at November 17, 2004 10:33 PM

Hey hey, let's lay off KC. The guy has been fighting the good fight against the Leftists in the history department at Brooklyn College for several years now.

It's a great story. Google it if you didn't read about it a few years ago via Instapundit.

KC's a good guy.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 17, 2004 10:54 PM