Every day we hear political commentators and pundits, mostly conservatives, exhorting their supporters to vote this November because, as they put it, "this is the most defining election in our lifetime." How quickly we forget. Two years ago we had the most defining election in America we have had in our lifetime. Could anyone argue that the election of America's first African-American president in a campaign that also featured the opportunity to elect the first serious female candidate for president was not the most defining election in our lifetime?
And just as important, if you are going to argue that an upcoming election is the most important or most defining, then it should mean that the results of that upcoming election are really going to change the political landscape in a more significant way than most other elections. Both sides always argue that point, primarily to encourage their supporters to get out and vote, and even the media often gets caught up in that argument primarily to increase viewer interest and drive up ratings.
But here's the reality for this year's upcoming mid-term elections, at least at the national level. If the Republicans won both Houses of Congress (and thanks to the Tea Party and incumbency prerogatives they now likely can only win one), what major legislation passed by the Obama administration and Democratic led Congress could they roll back, as the president will surely veto it? And even if the Republicans were able to win control of both the House and the Senate, they would absolutely not be able to win a "veto proof" two thirds majority in the Senate that would allow them to override any presidential veto. So in reality, not that much could change in the next two years with regard to rolling back Obama supported legislation, even if Republicans controlled both houses (and again, they are now likely at best to control just one).
To be fair, perhaps those who oppose the Obama administration's legislative agenda can take heart in my assessment, as it might lend support to their assertion of just how defining and important this upcoming election will be. Although I now believe it is most likely that Republicans do not gain control of both the Senate and the House, I do believe Republicans get control of the House (by a smaller margin than most are predicting), and I also believe Republicans will close the margin of Democratic control in the Senate by enough that the Obama Administration will not be able to pass any new major legislative initiatives during the last two years of the president's first term (unless it is legislation that Republicans also want).
Earlier, I asserted that Republicans will likely not win the Senate thanks to the Tea Party. Let's examine that further. In my analysis, the key to the role of the Tea Party in this year's Senate election will be in looking at two seats they might win that are impacted by two seats that they are likely to lose.
The first pair of seats we must examine are Wisconsin and Connecticut. These are two states that have been comfortably in Democratic hands for decades, and yet they are truly competitive this year. In Wisconsin, Russ Feingold is actually down in the polls at this moment and has been so consistently -- Russ Feingold, one of the "Lions" of the true Democratic "Left" and a mainstay in Wisconsin Senatorial politics for over twenty years. If the election were held today, he loses.
In Connecticut, the retirement of Democrat Chris Dodd (a good move, as he would definitely have been vulnerable to defeat had he run again), now sees Republican and Tea Party supported candidate Linda McMahon challenging that state's Democratic Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal. Normally, with Blumenthal's experience and standing in the State, he would have been a fairly easy winner in that race. But some gaffs in his resume and more significantly (surprisingly the war service misstatement has not had much effect), the unlimited personal funding McMahon has made available to her campaign has kept her competitive all the way to the finish line in this race, and as of today she remains in striking distance within two to three points of Blumenthal.
But here's another example of my theme. McMahon is at her strongest right now, and her best chance might be if the election were held today. She has to maintain where she is right now in order to have a chance to win in two weeks. If things change in any appreciable way between now and the election, they are most likely to change in Blumenthal's favor, as spending by unions and pensions and teachers is really just hitting its stride, along with key visits to the State by the President and Michelle Obama and possibly the Clintons scheduled -- all of which can really make a difference in a state like Connecticut in favor of Blumenthal.
But why are Connecticut and Wisconsin so key to the success of the Republicans and the future of the Tea Party? Because Connecticut and Wisconsin determine just how important will be likely Republican losses in the Senate in Delaware and yes, Nevada, and that overall scenario will determine if Republicans gain control of the Senate.
I think Republicans have a real chance to win Wisconsin and Connecticut, and they would have a great chance if the election were today. If they wind up losing to the Democrats in those states, then the rest of this won't matter.
But if Republicans do pull out Wisconsin and Connecticut, then the possibility that they could have won Delaware and Nevada if the regular Party candidate was representing Republicans instead of the Tea Party candidate will mean that if they had won Nevada and Delaware Republicans could win the Senate. But in Delaware, had the Republican standard bearer candidate Mike Castle won the primary, he would absolutely have defeated the Democratic candidate for US Senate, Chris Cooms. But instead, the Republican candidate is the Tea Party winner Christine O'Donnell, who starts off one of her prominent campaign ads by proclaiming that "I am not a witch."
In a poll taken just a week ago, voters preferred Republican Mike Castle over Democrat Chris Cooms by more than eleven percentage points. But Castle is not on the ballot. Meanwhile, O'Donnell trails Cooms by close to 15 points -- and O'Donnell is on the ballot. That's why Karl Rove was so upset when O'Donnell won the primary. And he took a lot of criticism from Republican Party regulars -- but he was right. And if Republicans win Wisconsin and Connecticut, but lose Delaware, Rove will be even more right.
Now let's move over to Nevada. This is really a strange one. For the last several weeks, Republicans and conservative commentators have been elated over the fact that Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate carrying the Republican banner against Harry Reid for the US Senate race in that state, has been leading Harry Reid by anywhere from 2 to 4 points. That's hogwash. If Republicans had nominated a more centrist candidate to oppose Reid, they would have that election already locked up as their candidate would be 10 points ahead in the polls in Nevada, not 2 or 3 points (and actually, as of today, some polls show Reid up by 2 points).
But you simply cannot count on defeating the majority leader of the United States Senate, who has all the money he needs to spend, all the largesse and pork he can give out, and all the visits from the president and his wife and Bill and Hillary Clinton to count on in the last weeks of the campaign, and the Clintons could not be more popular than they are in this state densely populated with service workers and immigrants and minorities. And as the leader of the majority party in the Senate, Reid could get FDR to come in and campaign for him if that venerable leader of the Democratic Party were alive today. And Reid is just unleashing all of this fire power in these last few weeks.
But if Reid were down 10 to 12 points in the polls (a truer reflection of his low popularity in the state), all of this would not be enough to save him. But running against Tea Partyer Sharron Angler, and thus keeping the race within 2 to 3 points, all of this being unleashed in these last couple of weeks could just be enough to save Reid's seat.
And in both cases, Delaware and Nevada, it is the fact that the candidate on the ballot for Republicans is the Tea Party candidate espousing positions further to the right of center than normal is the only reason that gives the Democrats a real chance to win and hold those seats.
And that is the key. If Republicans wind up winning the Senate seats in Wisconsin and Connecticut, certainly possible, and then lose in Nevada and Delaware where they had a real chance to win, then the day after the election the Tea Party will have to make some real hard decisions as they are going to take it full blast from the established Republican Party with the charge that they -- the Tea Party -- cost Republicans control of the Senate.
The decision the Tea Party will have to make is: whether they will then fold under the pressure and be triangulated and co-opted into the Republican tent and quietly surrender in order to stop the bloodbath, or, whether the Tea Party will decide to withstand the criticism and continue to operate independently without allegiance to either Party and thus prepare the organizational groundwork they will need to possibly launch their own independent campaign with their own designated candidate for president in 2012. It will be fascinating to see how that plays out.
One final example of the "if the election were held today" theme. In Colorado, if the election were today, the Tea Party-supported candidate, Ken Buck, would win for the Republicans. Buck has had a comfortable lead for several weeks. But that lead is now closing, and today, Buck leads Democrat Michael Bennett by only 3 to 4 points. And Bennett seems to be gaining more momentum each day. So Buck has led virtually the entire race, but if the momentum continues as it is today, Bennett might wind up winning. And that's where we are in the country. California, Washington State and elsewhere, the Democrat now seems to be the one gaining in some momentum. Usually, the party out of power is counting on its continuing momentum leading them to victory on Election Day. This time, the party out of power is hoping to freeze momentum right where it is today as going forward things seem to be going downhill not up.
Finally, the election in the House of Representatives. This one is not rocket science. Even the most enthusiastic Democratic supporters, elected officials, commentators and pundits know, or should know, that it is most likely the Republicans will take control of the House. The only real question is to what degree. The most optimistic Republicans suggest they might wind up winning 50 to 55 seats. I just think that is too optimistic. But if the election were held today, I would say Republicans win 46 to 48 seats in the House. Since the election is held two weeks from now, my projection is that on Election Day Republicans win 42 to 44 seats -- still enough to take control of the House, but not the tsunami 50 to 55 that some are predicting.
But why, despite the variations of projections on how many seats Republicans win, do all of us predict that Republicans will take control of the House? Because of, in one word, "disappointment." Too many Americans who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 are just plain disappointed in his first two years as president. Many of them are not angry -- that's for the Tea Partiers. No, they are justdisappointed, in a sad sort of way. And one other point. I can't remember in my lifetime where a president has been able to pass so much major legislation in a two year period that the people just didn't like. That is most unusual.
Most presidents have one major initiative or piece of legislation that is controversial, and many, if not most, Americans don't like -- but no one has had so much passed that so many Americans do not like as President Obama has had. Makes it hard to run on your record and makes it easy to rally opposition to local candidates who would be going to Washington to ostensibly support more of the same from the Administration (that's why popular Democrat Joe Manchin in West Virginia is having so much trouble).
So clearly, as new polls just out show, most Americans now want Republicans to control Congress. Correction: most likely voters want Republicans to control Congress, and if the election were held today, the likely voters would decide. But the election is not held today, and the likely voters have already weighed in on how they will vote. So it's the registered but not likely voters out there who represent the potential to change the outcomes in the next two weeks, and most of those registered voters who are not likely voters are potential votes for Democrats if the Democrats can get them to overcome their disappointment and come out and vote.
If only the election were held today, then tomorrow this would all be over, and we could get started on the 2012 campaign. Oh you thought there would be a break? Forget that. There will be at least one formal announcement of a candidate officially running for president in 2012 by this coming January, so if you've had your checkbooks out for 2010, keep them out -- it seems the election is always being held today!
Carl Jeffers is a Los Angeles-and Seattle based columnist, TV political analyst, radio political and social topic commentator, and a national lecturer and consultant, and he is a regular commentator on the Fox Business Channel. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org