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November Elections Loom with Republicans Poised for Gains

October 19, 2010
By: Roger Bernard, Farm Journal Policy and Washington Editor
 
 

Two weeks from today on Nov. 2, voters head to the polls in a midterm election with a backdrop of economic pain, job worries and a low level of approval for many politicians individually and politicians in general. How will this translate into the world we'll see when Nov. 3 arrives? It could transform things significantly from their current status.

Current expectations are for Republicans to pick up the 39 seats they need to regain control of the House, with some political watchers putting those Republican gains in the neighborhood of 50 seats. Control of the Senate, however, may be a more-difficult task as the consensus now is centering on GOP gains of seven to nine seats.

And history is on the side of Republicans. The party in control of the White House has typically lost ground in mid-term elections. A sitting president’s party usually loses seats in a first mid-term election, with the most-recent exception being President George W. Bush in 2002, when the GOP picked up two seats and held steady in the House.

Since 1978, the incumbent party in the White House has lost seats in one if not both chambers. Going back further, since World War II, control of the U.S. House of Representatives has changed six times -- 1946, 1948, 1952, 1954, 1994, and 2006 -- and each time, the Senate has also shifted.

Also, there are a number of Democratic lawmakers elected in either 2006 or 2008 that were in congressional districts that backed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president.

How does agriculture figure into the mix? In the House, CQ Politics rates around 40 House races as "toss ups" at this stage. And nearly a quarter of those are members of the House Ag Committee. The 2008 election did see some members of the panel sent home, but this year could see a bigger shift on the panel.

Key impact with new members? Fewer and fewer lawmakers that have experience in work on a farm bill. While new omnibus farm legislation isn't due to be completed until 2012, House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) has pledged to push ahead for completion of a bill in 2011 as he believes the budget picture will be less favorable the longer a new bill waits. That means a major education effort to bring expected new lawmakers "up to speed" on the bill.

But some are starting to suggest that even Peterson could be vulnerable as he seeks another term in office.

If Republicans do retake the House, it would put Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) in charge of the committee. That may bring a slight change in focus for the panel, but he's still expected by most to continue the reputation that ag policy is mostly a bipartisan issue.

In the Senate, the main race most in ag circles are concentrating on is that involving Senate Ag Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). She emerged from a tough primary campaign victorious after being forced into a runoff to secure the Democratic spot on the ballot. She has been shown to be consistently trailing her challenger Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.).

If Lincoln loses, that puts the chairmanship of the panel at play, with the most likely lawmaker to gain the top Ag Committee spot would be Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). While down the seniority ladder, those above her are not expected to exit their current chair roles on other committees -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt., who has headed the panel before), Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Ia., who chaired the panel during the 2008 Farm Bill process), Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

Other members of the panel seeking another term include Leahy, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Bennet appears to be facing a strong challenge from Ken Buck (R), and is neck-and-neck in polls, while the others appear poised to return for another six years in the Senate.

But even some expected to easily return to Washington aren't taking many changes. Sen. Grassley's campaign ads in Iowa have far outnumbered those of his opponent Roxanne Conlin (D).

With Republicans expected to make big gains in the Nov. elections, the focus will be on how they react if they indeed return to the majority in the House. If they dig in their heels and have a showdown with Democrats and little gets done, their time in the majority could be short-lived. But if they can find a way to put aside the partisan bickering that kept action minimal in the latter days of the current Congress, that could bode well for their party in 2012.


 

 

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