The inestimable Michael Barone, the dean of American politics, predicts that this election cycle could be a repeat of ’94…1894:
For months, people have been asking me if this year looks like ’94. My response is that the poll numbers suggest it looks like 1994, when Republicans gained 52 seats in a House of 435 seats. Or perhaps somewhat better for Republicans and worse for Democrats. The Gallup high turnout and low turnout numbers suggest it looks like 1894, when Republicans gained more than 100 seats in a House of approximately 350 seats.
Now, a gain of 100 seats is probably out of the question. Not impossible, but close enough. But this election is not like other election cycles where the President’s party loses 20-25 House seats in a midterm election. This is looking at least like 1994, where the Democrats lost 54 House seats. It could even be bigger.
We can see proof of just how panicked the Democratic Party really is. Despite Vice President Biden’s bombastic claims that the Democrats will keep the House, every indication shows that the Democrats are counting on huge losses. Here’s the evidence: The Hotline reports that Democrats are trying to build a firewall in what should be arguably safe Democratic seats.
Take the example of Rep. Phil Hare, of Illinois’ 17th Congressional district. That district was gerrymandered to be Democratic, and Hare was unopposed in 2008. But now Bobby Schilling, his Republican challenger has raised an impressive amount of cash, and not only that Schilling has gotten the endorsement of The Chicago Tribune. Hare isn’t the only Democrat who should, in a normal election cycle, be utterly safe. But this isn’t a normal election cycle, and the number of safe Democratic seats is getting increasingly small.
Assuming that many independents are out of reach, White House strategists are counting on Mr. Obama to energize, cajole, wheedle and even shame the left into matching the Tea Party momentum that has propelled Republicans this year.
As he holds rallies aimed at college students and minority groups, sends e-mail to his old list of campaign supporters and prepares to host a town hall-style meeting on MTV, the president essentially is appealing to his liberal base to put aside its disappointment in him. Without offering regrets for policy choices that have angered liberals, Mr. Obama argues that the Republican alternative is far worse.
At best, that will only stem their losses. It was the independent vote shifting decidedly to the Democrats that led Obama to his substantial win in 2008. Without those independent voters, the Democrats have little chance of holding on to the House. President Obama’s retreat into the comfortable world of deep-blue America isn’t going to help his foundering presidency or his party’s chances.
Every analysis points to this being a major GOP year, on the scale of a 40 House seat gain. But there’s a good chance this will be a year like 1994, with a 50 seat gain, And in politics, sometimes the bottom falls out—a candidate that’s behind on Election Day sees their support drop as voters figure that it’s over and either stay home or vote for the winning candidate. That dynamic could push Democratic losses even higher if the GOP retains its significant lead through this month.
At the very least, this election is looking like a substantial wave election, and the Democrats are acting in accordance with that theory. But this could be something bigger—a tsunami election that leads to Republican gains much bigger than what’s been commonly predicted.