It wasn’t a dream

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  December 28, 2006

You can understand why, despite the current narrow margin, Republicans fear they “may not have another realistic shot at getting the majority back until 2012,” as Chuck Todd recently wrote in the National Journal.

In the lower chamber, the Dems are also slated to keep their gains, and could also increase them. Political observers point out that the House of Representatives changes party control roughly as often as the Red Sox win the World Series. That’s largely because of the almost sure-bet re-election of incumbents. Blame it on whatever you want: district gerrymandering, campaign-finance law, name recognition, or the basic tendency of most voters to not change their minds dramatically in two years. The truism hasn’t changed. Even in last month’s dramatic shift, more than 94 percent of congressional incumbents running for re-election won — right in line with historical averages, as political analyst Charlie Cook has observed, although down from the 98-plus rates of the past five elections.

Barring the kind of radical national rejection just experienced by their counterparts, Democrats are unlikely to lose their House majority anytime soon unless a large number of Democrats in moderate districts resign, creating open battles.

In fact, exactly the opposite is likely, say observers like Mark Gersh, Washington director of the progressive National Committee for an Effective Congress [NCEC]. Republican congressmen, many of whom have never served in the minority, are about to find out just how little fun it is without the perks and privileges of power, he says. Don’t be surprised to see Republicans head for more lucrative offers in the private sector.

Meanwhile, fundraising and candidate recruiting is always harder for the minority party, and easier for the majority. “The DCCC’s [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] recruiting in ’06 was impressive, and I think ’08 will be even better,” Gersh says.

Plus, Democrats can now introduce their best issues into the national discussion — and remind the American people what they like about the party. New Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s “First 100 Hours” plan may be gimmicky, but votes on raising the minimum wage, offering tax credits for college tuition, and allowing negotiation for lower prescription-drug costs will remind average Americans just how little the Republicans did for them when they controlled the federal government.

2) Statehouse control
The Democrats’ gains in state governments were no less dramatic; they took over six governor’s chairs, three state senates, and seven state lower houses. Roughly 50 million Americans who have been living under a Republican governor are getting a Democratic one in January.

The Democrats’ share of state legislative seats is at its highest since before the 1994 Republican revolution — despite large declines in the deep South, where the old “blue dog” Democrats no longer dominate state politics. Four years ago, Democrats held 43 of the 98 available chambers (Nebraska’s legislature is nonpartisan); they now control 56.

“You’re seeing a Democratic ascendancy that is not just regional,” says Michael Davies, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

The state-level gains reflect voter frustration with more than the Iraq war and congressional-Republican corruption, says Davies. As a stingy and disinterested federal government has pushed more and more problems down to the states, “there’s an increased awareness that state legislatures are where important work gets done,” Davies says.

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