Republicans looking for ways to rebound by next fallWASHINGTON — The midterm congressional elections are a year away, but unsurprisingly, Republicans vanquished at the polls by the Obama landslide last fall are already talking about the possibility of reclaiming the
By: Dan Thomasson, The Dickinson Press
WASHINGTON — The midterm congressional elections are a year away, but unsurprisingly, Republicans vanquished at the polls by the Obama landslide last fall are already talking about the possibility of reclaiming the House. Are they whistling past the party graveyard or do they actually have reason to be optimistic about the possibility of resurrection?
That of course will depend on what kind of marks President Barack Obama receives on his report card from the electorate after nearly two years in office. But even if things are good, history is on the side of the GOP when it comes to narrowing the Democratic majority, at least in the lower chamber. Only twice since Abraham Lincoln has the party out of power in both Congress and the White House failed to make some gains at the halfway point in the presidential cycle.
For instance, when the Democrats nearly annihilated the Republicans in the 1964 election, two years later voters began sweeping them out of office again, returning more than 50 seats to the GOP. It is important to note that next year Democrats will face reelection in 51 districts that Obama failed to carry and that are nominally Republican. While GOP candidates couldn’t be expected to prevail in all of these, they certainly could in a sizable number.
So what are the Democrats telling their members in these and other shaky districts to do? “Vote their constituencies,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, told reporters the other day at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.
“And not their consciences?” someone cracked.
“Oh, their consciences always,” Van Hollen replied, “and then their constituencies.”
If that sounds like a mixed message, it is at least for public consumption. The Maryland congressman knows what to say and when to say it. But he didn’t back away from conceding that the next up and down vote is not so far away as not to worry. With a whole lot riding on how party moderates fair with those constituents who are opposed to major portions of the health care reform package, Van Hollen knows full well that in some districts moderates face a real challenge. Unlike Republicans, who he claims treat ideological impurity as treason punishable by excommunication, Van Hollen said his members would not face the same fate if they felt it necessary to break with the party line on health reform. Republicans face some real difficulties in restructuring the party as conservatives show signs of major revolt, putting up their own candidates and rejecting the GOP hopeful if he or she is considered too moderate as they did in upstate New York.
Most of Van Hollen’s remarks were in answer to Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia who boldly predicted to the same group a few days earlier that his party would recapture the House. Price charged that the Democratic leadership in the lower chamber has given in to the liberals and is cobbling together a health bill that many of their own members can’t survive if it passes.
Why so much back and forth with 12 months to go before the polls open? Both parties are working to fill their coffers and both have become hypersensitive to predictions of political disaster brought on by the health care reform debate.
Republicans emphatically deny charges by the Democratic leadership that they are obstructionists without any plan of their own to solve the nation’s medical dilemma. At the same time, Democrats bristle at suggestions that the debate, especially over liberal demands for a robust public option as an alternative to private insurance, has revealed deep fissures in their own party that could make for major losses next year.
For the average American, the warning is clear: Be prepared for months of political ballyhoo and vinegary rhetoric. Since the president himself has a major stake in the outcome, he is likely to do what he has done the first nine months of his tenure and loves to do — campaign a lot.
— Thomasson is the former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at email@example.com.