years ago, Mel Gibson starred in What Women Want, an inane movie
about a guy who suddenly could read the minds of women he came
close to. That silly film comes to mind these days when I listen
to what Democrats say, because I find myself wondering what Democrats
parties always try hard to win as many races as possible in each
election. What might be in their best interest is some times a
different story. So the question arises: Do Democrats really want
to win majorities in the Senate and the House in 2006?
as that question may sound, consider the following: Let’s
say Democrats are able to defeat Republican Sens. Conrad Burns
in Montana, Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island, Mike DeWine in Ohio,
Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, and Jim Talent in Missouri, plus
win the Senate seat being vacated by Bill Frist of Tennessee,
plus hold on to every one of their own seats, including the most
problematic— an open seat in Minnesota and Maria Cantwell’s
seat in Washington. Those successes would give the Democrats the
barest, 51-vote majority and, along with it, the power to investigate
and subpoena. But they could do very little else, particularly
with President Bush in the White House.
if Democrats captured all 21 of the House seats that Republicans
seem in danger of losing and kept all 11 Democratic seats that
now appear vulnerable? They would have a microscopic, five-seat,
in both scenarios, I deliberately avoided the word “control.”
A Senate majority with 51 seats or a House majority with 223 is
hardly in control of anything. Again, Democrats would gain the
power to subpoena and investigate, but little else.
win larger majorities? In the Senate, only one other GOP seat
is even theoretically vulnerable, that of Arizona’s Jon
Kyl. So 52-48 is the very best the Democrats could possibly do.
In the House, another half-dozen GOP seats might flip, but that
is very unlikely as long as the number of Republican retirements
stays low. Democrats have been unable to recruit top-tier candidates
to challenge some of the most potentially vulnerable Republicans,
leaving incumbents such as Anne Northup (KY-03) and Jon Porter
(NV-03) to face second-rate Democratic opponents.
situation for any party in a legislative chamber is to have the
responsibility to govern without the power to do so. If Democrats
gain a majority in each chamber, they’ll find themselves
sharing blame with President Bush.
are upset and when one party controls the White House, the Senate,
and the House, fingers can point in only one direction. If Democrats
gain a chamber, some of the air will start leaking from that “time
for a change” balloon, and it would be awfully hard to reinflate.
On the other
hand, if Democrats go into 2008 just a few seats shy of a Senate
majority, their chances of scoring a meaningful win in that chamber,
as well as capturing the White House, would be substantial. (In
2008, 21 Republican Senate seats, but just 12 Democratic ones,
will be on the line.)
And in the
House, drawing on the momentum of a 10- or 12-seat gain this year,
national Democrats might be able to recruit strong 2008 candidates
in districts where local party leaders have given up this year.
While Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm
Emanuel has done his best to recruit first-rate Democratic challengers,
the untold story is that it has been 24 years since Democrats
went into a congressional election with a real wind at their backs.
of Democrats coming out on top in the 2008 races for real control
of the Senate, the House, and the White House will be better if,
in the interim, Democrats have not diluted the voters’ desire
for change by sharing responsibility for governing.
we ought to expect the Democrats to go full tilt in this year’s
elections, if they make gains but come up just short in both chambers,
they may lay the groundwork for a much bigger and more consequential
triumph in 2008.
Cook is a weekly columnist for National
Journal magazine and the founder and publisher of the Cook