Though still many months away, many political analysts and pundits are turning their attention to the 2014 mid-term election, the results of which will determine President Barack Obama’s legacy.
There has been much talk in recent weeks about the push by conservatives inside Congress to defund ObamaCare. If successful, this would lead to a government shutdown, a prospect that most establishment Republicans, including Karl Rove and Mitt Romney, believe would greatly diminish the party’s chances of taking control fo the Senate and, possibly, cost them the House of Representatives.
Those fueling the push to defund ObamaCare note that a majority of Americans oppose the law and that the Republican Party hasn’t done much to take a strong stand against it, outside of repeal votes that are dead-on-arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate. They’ve said they have every intention of funding the government, outside of ObamaCare, and are leaving the prospect of a government shutdown in the hands of the White House.
But Byron York, a contributor at the Washington Examiner, says that Republicans could lose the House for reasons, even if a government shutdown were to occur. He explained earlier this week that opposing President Obama isn’t enough and that the GOP has to offer an agenda to voters.
“Behind the scenes — in whispered asides, not for public consumption — some Republicans are now worried that keeping the House is not such a done deal after all,” wrote York. “They look back to two elections, 1998 and 2006, in which Republicans seriously underperformed expectations, and they wonder if 2014 might be a little like those two unhappy years.”
“In both years, ‘98 and ‘06, Republicans concentrated more on going after Democrats than on laying out a solid plan for governance,” he added. “They were the opposition party more than the alternative party. And they suffered for it.”
York makes a good point about 1998. It was an odd year for House Republicans who were beginning to discuss the prospect of then-President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. They lost five seats in that election, though they held their majority by a slim margin.
But the problem is that a president’s party typically loses seats during a mid-term election. Though he had troubles, Americans still liked Clinton and approved of his job performance.
The results of the 1998 election sent a shockwave through the House Republican Conference. Newt Gingrich, who was unpopular with the American people and his own caucus, resigned from his post as Speaker of the House just a few days later and eventually retired when the new Congress went into session.
The 2006 election was sort of a stereotypical mid-term election on steroids. Democrats didn’t really present much in terms of a bold agenda, but with Americans discouraged over the war in Iraq and unhappy about the direction of the country, they didn’t really have to. They ran on anti-George W. Bush platform and shellacked Republicans, winning 31 seats and control of the House.
But York worries that the failures of these two elections will be replicated next year. “What is the GOP plan for 2014? It’s not clear. But there are indications some Republicans believe that, with a weakening president, a strategy based mostly on opposing Democrats will be enough to keep control of the House,” he notes. “But voters are sending some warning signals,” pointing to poll numbers showing Obama stronger than Republicans on the economy.
“What that should tell the GOP is that Republican candidates don’t need to tell voters what a bad job the president is doing. They already know that, and besides, Obama won’t be on the ballot in 2014,” wrote York. “What GOP candidates need to do is convince voters that they would do a better job than Democrats.”
York is right to say that Republicans need to offer an agenda to Americans that presents a stark contrast between them and President Obama. That’s what they did when they won control of the House in both the 1994 and 2010 mid-term elections, even though they didn’t really keep many of the promises they made (a topic for another day).
But looking at the competitive seats this year, it’s incredibly unlikely that House Republicans, who currently hold 233 seats, will lose their majority, even lacking anything in terms of a real agenda.
According to the Cook Political Report’s current ratings, House Republicans will start the mid-term with 205 seats solidly in their corner, leaving them with only 13 seats need to retain their majority.
Cook Political Report lists 17 seats currently held by the GOP as “Likely Republican” and another 11 as “Lean Republican.” None of the seats rated “Likely Republican” are in districts with a Democratic slant, though a few are tight.
Of the 11 districts ranked as “Lean Republican,” only five are really in jeopardy of changing parties. Only one current Republican seat — CA-31, which is a D+5 district — is thought to be a toss-up.
Democrats aren’t nearly as lucky. They have eight seats rated as toss-ups, six of which are in Republican districts. Of the 16 “Lean Democratic” seats they currently hold, seven in have a Republican slant. Only one of the seats rated as “Likely Democratic” is in a Republican district.
Based on the numbers, as things currently look, Republicans are in a position to keep their majority and, quite possibly, keep the same number of seats they currently hold or maybe even pick up a few seats.
Now, a lot can happen between now and next November, which is to say that Republicans shouldn’t bank on anything. They shouldn’t settle for mediocrity. There do need to produce a clear, attainable platform that will attract voters.
But if they lose even a handful of seats, House Republicans need to take a real look at their leadership, much like Republicans did in 1998 when Newt Gingrich was practically forced to step down.