Polls and history are signaling that the Nov. 2 election could once again bring change to Washington. If trends hold, the pendulum, which swung heavily to Democratic candidates in 2006 and 2008, could swing back toward Republican gains.
The party in control of the White House typically loses ground in midterm elections. With the exception of President George W. Bush in 2002, the incumbent party in the White House has lost seats in one if not both chambers since 1978. Since World War II, control of the U.S. House of Representatives has changed six times and each time, the Senate has also shifted.
Not only are Democrats faced with defending more seats than Republicans, but a chunk of those Democratic seats are in congressional districts that tend to be more conservative. Some 49 out of the 67 seat races that are rated “too close to call” by the Cook Political Report are in districts that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried in 2008.
Republicans would need a net gain of 39 seats to take control of the House and a net gain of 10 seats to control the Senate. Here’s what the political watchers expect:
- Cook Political Report: A Republican gain of “at least” 40 seats in the House and a pickup of seven to nine seats in the Senate. That forecast for the House would “give [the GOP] majority status, and very possibly substantially more,” the newsletter adds.
- Stuart Rothenberg: Republicans are forecast to pick up 37 to 42 seats, “with the caveat that substantially larger GOP gains in the 45- to 55-seat range are quite possible.” In the Senate, Rothenberg expects that the party will pick up six to eight seats.
- Crystal Ball Web site: A district district-by-district analysis by Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, indicates that Republicans could net up to 47 seats in the House. In the Senate, his expectations are for an eight- or nine-seat gain, with an chance for 10 seats in the GOP victory column.
Factors driving the forecasts. The economy and jobs are the factors voters will be thinking about in the voting booth. Unemployment remains high, income growth has been slow and consumer and business confidence remains low.
Even though incumbents have been reelected 95% of the time in prior elections, we’ve already seen lawmakers from both parties bounced before they had a chance to face a challenger from the opposite party. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) lost to a Tea Party–backed challenger and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) was sent packing in his party’s primary earlier this year.
Impacts for agriculture. If Nov. 3 finds the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to be razor thin or eliminated, there will be interesting implications for agriculture. It would put even more focus on the coming post-election, lame-duck session of Congress. That’s where issues like the expiring Bush tax cuts could be decided.
Should Republicans gain control of the House, current Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) doesn’t expect any major impacts for ag policy. He predicts the next U.S. farm bill “will be a bipartisan bill.”