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OFF TO THE RACES

Democrats are unlikely to win a House majority in the midterm election, unless voters reach a breaking point with Republicans.
By Charlie Cook
July 15, 2013 | 6:07 p.m.

Recently a Democratic congressional leader cheerfully teased me about my decidedly pessimistic view of his party’s chances of regaining a House majority, saying, “Why can’t you just say, ‘Democrats can’t win a majority in the House, but Republicans can lose one.’ ”

From a mathematical standpoint, this Democrat’s formulation doesn’t change the odds, but the point was well taken. Democrats can do everything right during this 2014 election cycle, but they still don’t have much of a chance of capturing a majority due to the congressional district boundaries and recent voting patterns in Southern and border states in rural and small-town-dominated districts. However, if Republicans engage in enough self-destructive behavior of the type we’ve seen the past couple of years, voters might just reach a breaking point. Some in the Republican Party seem intent on seeing how far they can go in alienating as many female, young, minority, and self-described moderate voting blocs as possible, despite frequent warnings from party leaders and strategists to avoid that.

We in Washington are, as always, far more preoccupied with events and dynamics inside the proverbial Beltway, but the GOP must also be mindful of actions elsewhere, in state capitals for example, that can also affect their party’s brand in those states and across the country. Although the focus in recent weeks has been on successful pro-life efforts in the Texas Legislature, we are seeing many efforts in legislatures, particularly in the South, that are aimed at placating the base and conservative activists. News is not confined within states or congressional districts. High-profile actions in one state can be heard a thousand miles away and can jeopardize the party’s standing nationally among all of those who don’t call themselves conservative. Keep in mind that while conservatives outnumber liberals by about 10 points nationally—35 percent to 25 percent in last year’s exit polls—40 percent of voters call themselves moderates. Thus two out of three voters do not identify as conservative.

The biggest political development of the weekend was former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s decision not to run for the open Senate seat in Montana, where Democrat Max Baucus is retiring. Schweitzer was considered a strong favorite to win and hold the seat in this decidedly red state. A Democratic victory in Montana would now be counted as a real upset. No doubt Democrats will find a candidate, but none will be as strong as Schweitzer.

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