The Thinker: Rich Galen


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Rich Galen

Thursday January 11, 2017

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  • The first mid-term elections of Donald Trump's Presidency will be held on November 6, 2018.

  • This is January, 2018 so ten months from now - exactly 10 months from now - Washington, DC will be poring over the results in all 435 House districts to see who won, who lost, who needs to be sent a letter of congratulations, who needs a condolence note.

  • As of this morning, there are 239 Republicans in the U.S. House, 193 Democrats and three vacancies. As there are 435 voting Members of the House, whichever party has 218 Members or more, gets to control everything.

  • Remember, there is no filibuster rule in the House. You have 218 (assuming you can hold them all) and you get to elected the Speaker, the Chair of every committee and subcommittee, you get to appoint about 2/3 of the staff of those committees and you get to decide what comes to the Floor, when, and under what rules.

  • The Ds need a net gain of 25 to get to that magic 218 point.

  • It is a very big deal.

  • That's why we are seeing an increasing level of hand-wringing along K Street (my office is one block away on L Street where the wringing of hands is frowned upon, if not outright forbidden).

  • As of this writing, 31 of those 239 Republicans have already announced they will not be seeking re-election. That's one of those numbers you need to look at carefully. 31 is correct, but without further explanation it is likely you believe they are all leaving to spend more time with their families and less time trying to raise money for their next Congressional race.

  • It is not true. Of those 31, 19 are, as NPR put it, "retiring outright" but "another 12 are running for higher office" - Governor or Senator.

  • Also, to hear cable news hosts read from their teleprompters, you would think that all of those 31 seats will flip to being Democrat. Also not true. Some - maybe most - will flip, but it is beyond unlikely that Democrats will go 31 for 31 (or whatever the final number of retirements is) next November.

  • Speaking of which, there are 15 Democrats who have announced they are not running for re-election to the House and it is equally unlikely that the Ds will go 15 for 15 in holding onto those seats.

  • Having written all that, let me give you the bad news: It is likely the Democrats will take control of the House when the 116th Congress convenes on or about next January 3.

  • Keep in mind that my predictive skills are not what they used to be. Ask President Hillary Clinton, for instance.

  • Nevertheless, the signs are ominous.

  • Since World War II, again via NPR "the president's party loses an average of 28 seats in his first midterm election." In fact, only once - George W.'s first mid-term (about a year after 9/11) has the incumbent's party gained seats. In that case eight.

  • Bill Clinton lost 52 seats in his first mid-term which was 1994, the year of the Gingrich Revolution. Worse than that was Barack Obama's first mid-term - minus 63 seats.

  • In each of those cases, the President's job approval was significantly higher than Donald Trump's is today. As election day approached, Clinton's job approval was at 48 percent; Obama's was at 45 percent. Donald Trump, according to the RealClearPolitics average is at about 40 percent, so he's within range of Obama.

  • But, as Obama lost 63 seats, that may not be a great target for the White House to aim at.

  • There are several early warning signals political pros look at to peek behind the electoral curtain. One is called the "generic vote." The pollsters don't ask "If the election were held today would you vote for the incumbent Rich Galen or the challenger Bob Smith?" They ask, "If the election were held today would you vote for the Republican or the Democrat?"

  • Again, from RCP, the generic vote favors Democrats by 11.8 percentage points. For context, in that 63 seat Republican sweep in Obama's first mid-term, the Rs went into election day leading Ds on the generic ballot by just 6.8 percentage points.

  • But, just like the Presidency, we do not have national elections. In the U.S. House we have 435 separate hand-to-hand battles for each seat in each state.

  • We've got 10 months - and likely many more retirements - before election day.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A great chart from University of California, Santa Barbara showing wins and losses by President from FDR through Obama, and that NPR report on retirements

    The Mullfoto is of yet another made-up fee - this time from a restaurant in Portland, Oregon.

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