Gerrymander Deals Could Keep House Republican in '06
If the public's esteem for President Bush and the Republican Congress
remains as low as it is now, Democrats could win back control
of the House - barely.
conclusion of a new election analysis by the electoral reform
group FairVote, in making the point that gerrymandering of House
districts has made takeover prospects much more difficult for
Democrats now than it was for Republicans in 1994.
Republicans won 54.6 percent of the national vote for the House
and picked up 52 seats. If Democrats managed a similar popular-vote
feat next year, FairVote figures, they might conceivably net the
15 seats they need to take over the House, but the more likely
result would be a single-digit gain.
pretty appalling," said FairVote's executive director, Rob
Richie, whose group advocates handling redistricting through nonpartisan
commissions rather than elected politicians.
consultant deeply involved in tracking House races seat by seat
confirmed the gist of FairVote's analysis, with an optimistic
to think it was impossible for us to take the House back,"
he said. "But Bush and the Republicans are in such bad shape
that it's still uphill, but it's achievable."
and the GOP Congress are in bad shape, with the Harriet Miers
debacle and the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of
staff coming as just the latest blows.
averages show Bush's approval rating at 41.3 percent, Congress'
approval at 31.8 percent, the direction of the country at 61 percent
negative and the Democrats' advantage on the generic Congressional
vote number at 7.2 percent.
numbers hold - and a year is a long time in politics - then 2006
should be a disastrous year for Republicans, based on past election
history, GOP pollster Bill McInturff told reporters at the Christian
Science Monitor breakfast earlier this month.
he said, the president's party has lost an average of 43 House
seats in off-year elections whenever his approval rating fell
below 50 percent.
President Ronald Reagan had an approval rating of 43 percent on
Election Day and Republicans lost 26 seats. Former President Bill
Clinton's approval rating was at 46 percent when his party lost
control of the House.
patterns of Congressional losses no longer apply, according to
Richie, partly because there is no evidence that a new partisan
realignment is under way, and partly because districts are so
gerrymandered that only 30 or so Congressional districts out of
435 are competitive.
The two parties,
otherwise bitterly polarized, conspired after the 2000 Census
to protect incumbents by packing Republican voters into Republican
districts and Democrats into Democratic districts, so that only
59 seats are held by Members of a different party from the one
that carried his or her district in the 2004 presidential election.
there were 86 such districts, according to the "Politics
of Polarization" report compiled by Democratic scholars Bill
Galston and Elaine Kamarck. In 1992 and 1996, there were more
than 100 split districts.Of the 59 current split districts, only
18 are represented by a Republican and were carried by Sen. John
Kerry (D-Mass.), making them theoretically ripe for pickoff.
hopes partly ride on the fact that Republicans occupy 40 districts
that Bush carried by less than 8 percent. Half of the 52 seats
Republicans picked up in 1994 were in districts Clinton had carried
by a similar number in 1992.
between 1994 and 2006, at least for now, is a comparative lack
of open seats. There were 52 in 1994, of which 39 were carried
by Republicans, including 22 that were previously occupied by
there are only 18 open seats, 12 of which are held by Republicans
so far. If Democrats win 54.6 percent of the national popular
vote, as in 1994, Richie projected that they might carry 10 of
the 18 but could easily get fewer.
Republicans defeated 34 Democratic incumbents. "As of now,"
Richie said, "there just aren't that many Republicans in
districts that lean Democratic." There are only four districts
that Kerry carried by 55 percent or better that are currently
occupied by Republicans.
in a 54-46 year," Richie said, "our model projects 13
Republican incumbents would be vulnerable. On average, about one
in four will lose. We could add three or four who might lose who
we wouldn't project as safe winners, but there could be a couple
of Democratic losers even in a Democratic year.
without factoring in any new open seats, that leaves Democrats
with perhaps 8 gains in open seats, 7 or 8 defeats of incumbent
[Republicans] and one incumbent loss, which would put them right
on the bubble for taking control of the House - but nothing like
obviously will be glad to take power, but they, and the GOP, ought
to resolve to make no more incumbent-protection deals in future
decades. Gerrymandering thwarts the public will and prevents a
winning party from really winning.
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.