It is an American tradition that the president’s party loses congressional seats in the mid-term elections as voters chasten the party in power. Losses of 32 seats in the House of Representatives have been average since 1862. The wave on Nov. 2 is expected to be bigger—the only question is by how much?
Republicans now hold 181 House seats and need to reach 218 seats to form a majority. Analysts at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics predict a gain of 47 seats—20 more seats than they were forecasting just a few months ago, and more than enough to take control of the chamber. “We just haven’t seen the economic rebound that Democrats needed. The doom-and-gloom narrative is just building on itself,” says Isaac Wood, analyst for the Crystal Ball, the centre’s respected election predicting website.
The U.S. Senate is expected to remain in Democratic hands, but barely. Republicans now have 41 out of 100 seats. Because Senate rules give a tiebreaking vote to the vice-president, Joe Biden, Republicans need to gain 10 seats to take control. Republicans were well on their way to eight or nine likely seats, but their chances look one seat weaker after Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party-backed candidate, won the Republican nomination in Delaware last week, beating a long-time moderate Republican congressman, Mike Castle. O’Donnell, whose personal baggage includes painfully embarrassing statements and alleged misuse of campaign funds, will face a tough battle in the Democratic-leaning state.
“Just as the national tide was moving their way, [the GOP] put seats into play that should have been easy seats, like Delaware, Alaska and Nevada,” says Wood. In Alaska, moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is threatening to split the GOP vote by running a write-in campaign after being ousted as the nominee by Tea Party-backed candidate Joe Miller. In Nevada, Senate majority leader Harry Reid saw his chances of re-election improve after Republicans nominated Tea Party-backed candidate Sharron Angle, who has advocated controversial policies such as phasing out Social Security. But with the primary results surprising most pundits, no one can say for certain how far the Republican wave will go. The Crystal Ball notes that every time control of the House has flipped in postwar history, the Senate has flipped too.
If the Republicans take control of the House, they have pledged to push for deep spending cuts and to stymie President Barack Obama’s health care reform by blocking funding and enforcement of portions of the law. And expect Republican-led committees to launch a variety of investigations into the Obama administration’s conduct. “The main result we’ll have from the mid-terms is that Obama’s agenda will be put on ice for the next two years,” says Wood. “He won’t be able to pass anything. But Republicans won’t be able to pass anything because you’ll have Obama’s veto pen looming.”
If Republicans manage a slim majority in the Senate, individual senators would once again hold great sway over the fate of legislation and could use it as leverage for special deals for their individual states—the kind of political conduct voters are rebelling against. “It’s going to be a tough situation. You’ll see neither side govern with a strong hand,” says Wood, who compares the scenario to the aftermath of Republicans taking Congress in the 1994 elections halfway through Bill Clinton’s first term. Other than welfare reform, “it was mostly naming post offices and congratulating sports teams on their victories.” It’s hardly the result legions of frustrated voters are clamouring for, but it could be what they get.