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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Democrats vs. Republicans: Who Has the Advantage Going Forward?

     Greg Sargent among other liberal pundits has written a lot of doom and gloom scenarios about the Dems future prospects. Thanks to things like gerrymandering, out of state money from ALEC, etc, some voter id laws that are intended to make it harder for Democratic voters to vote and some bad rulings from the SJC like gutting a significant part of the Voting Rights Act, the GOP has done very well in the House in recent years and also at the state level.

       Still one thing that I think Sargent does is to believe the hype a little too quickly. The GOP allegedly to hear him tell it seems to have a lock on the House for the next 20 years give or take. 

     “As I noted this morning, anyone who cares about the future of the Democratic Party needs to ask whether the party’s elders and wise men are thinking hard enough about how to regain ground on the state level. That would make it more likely that the next round of redistricting battles, in 2020, could help Democrats win back the House in the face of population shifts and GOP redistricting successes that have gamed the national map in favor of GOP control. This process needs to start now.

If you look a bit more deeply into the problem, though, it appears even more daunting than you might have expected.”
     “Today I chatted with David Wasserman, who closely tracks House districts for the Cook Political Report. Wasserman recently wrote that due to population shifts and redistricting that have resulted in huge concentrations of Democratic votes in Dem districts — wasting a lot of those votes — Democrats can now expect that the percentage of seats they win will consistently trail their victory in the overall popular vote by about four percentage points.”
      “The starting point for changing it, Wasserman notes, would be in the big swing states that President Obama carried in 2012. Even though Obama won them, Dems still hold far fewer legislative and Congressional seats than Republicans do. In Ohio, the breakdown of seats in the next Congress will be 12 Republican, four Democratic. In Pennsylvania the breakdown will be 13 Republican, five Democratic. Those two states, Wasserman notes, are particularly lopsided because Democratic districts are “heavily urbanized,” with huge numbers of Dem voters concentrated in them around Columbus, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
     “Meanwhile, in Michigan the breakdown will be nine Republican, five Dem. In Wisconsin the breakdown will be five Republican, three Democratic. In North Carolina it will be 10 Republican, three Democratic.”
       “In all of those states, Republicans control the state legislatures. In all but one of them — Pennsylvania — Republicans also control the governor’s mansions.”
     “If Democrats were to get neutral maps drawn by God in all 50 states, they would still fall well short of winning back the House,” Wasserman concludes. “What Democrats really need is a massive resettlement program.”
       “Of course, Democrats can hold power in Washington by winning the White House next time, or winning back the Senate, or both. But even if they do win those, the Dem agenda will continue to be frustrated by GOP control of the House. And if they don’t win those, we’re looking at total GOP control. Ironically, the Democrats’ best near-term hope for winning back the House may be a Republican president who is unpopular enough to trigger big Dem wave elections, like those in 2006 and 2008.”
       There are certainly some concerns but I still think that Sargent overdoes it a little. What he seems to forget is electoral history even recent history. In my own lifetime-born in 1971-I remember when the GOP had a lock on the White House-until it didn’t-and the Dems had a lock on the House-until they didn’t-and then Karl Rove in 2002 and 2004 was talking about a ‘permanent Republican majority’-which was a historical footnote and curiosity by 2006 and now we have the permanent GOP House. 
      They do have some short term advantages in the House-though not the Senate. The Dems do need to figure out how do something about gerrymandering and redistricting. Yet in time it seems likely they will. Listen to what a perceptive Republican is saying as a corrective to Sargent:
      “Few things are as dangerous to a long term strategy as a short-term victory. Republicans this week scored the kind of win that sets one up for spectacular, catastrophic failure and no one is talking about it.”
      “What emerges from the numbers is the continuation of a trend that has been in place for almost two decades. Once again, Republicans are disappearing from the competitive landscape at the national level across the most heavily populated sections of the country while intensifying their hold on a declining electoral bloc of aging, white, rural voters. The 2014 election not only continued that doomed pattern, it doubled down on it. As a result, it became apparent from the numbers last week that no Republican candidate has a credible shot at the White House in 2016, and the chance of the GOP holding the Senate for longer than two years is precisely zero.”
      “The Blue Wall is block of states that no Republican Presidential candidate can realistically hope to win. Tuesday that block finally extended to New Hampshire, meaning that at the outset of any Presidential campaign, a minimally effective Democratic candidate can expect to win 257 electoral votes without even trying. That’s 257 out of the 270 needed to win.”
       “Arguably Virginia now sits behind that wall as well. Democrats won the Senate seat there without campaigning in a year when hardly anyone but Republicans showed up to vote and the GOP enjoyed its largest wave in modern history. Virginia would take that tally to 270. Again, that’s 270 out of 270.”
       “This means that the next Presidential election, and all subsequent ones until a future party realignment, will be decided in the Democratic primary. Only by sweeping all nine of the states that remain in contention AND also flipping one impossibly Democratic state can a Republican candidate win the White House. What are the odds that a Republican candidate capable of passing muster with 2016 GOP primary voters can accomplish that feat? You do the math.”
        “By contrast, Republicans control a far more modest Red Fortress, which currently amounts to 149  electoral votes. What happened to that fortress amid the glory of the 2014 “victory?” It shrunk yet again. Not only are New Hampshire and probably Virginia now off the competitive map, Georgia is now clearly in play at the Federal level. This trend did not start in 2014 and it will not end here. This is a long-term realignment that been in motion for more than a decade and continues to accelerate.”
       “The biggest Republican victory in decades did not move the map. The Republican party’s geographic and demographic isolation from the rest of American actually got worse.”
       “A few other items of interest from the 2014 election results:
–      “Republican’s failed to pick up a single Senate seat Blue Wall. Not one. The only GOP candidate to win a Senate seat behind the Blue Wall was the party’s last moderate, Susan Collins of Maine.”
       “- Behind the Blue Wall there were some new Republican Governors, but their success was very specific and did not translate down the ballot. None of these candidates ran on social issues, Obama, or opposition the ACA. Rauner stands out as a particular bright spot in Illinois, but Democrats in Illinois retained their supermajority in the State Assembly, similar to other northern states, without losing a single seat.”
        “- Republicans in 2014 were the most popular girl at a party no one attended. Voter turnout was awful.”
        “- Democrats have consolidated their power behind the sections of the country that generate the overwhelming bulk of America’s wealth outside the energy industry. That’s only ironic if you buy into far-right propaganda, but it’s interesting none the less.”
        “- Vote suppression is working remarkably well, but that won’t last. Eventually Democrats will help people get the documentation they need to meet the ridiculous and confusing new requirements. The whole “voter integrity” sham may have given Republicans a one or maybe two-election boost in low-turnout races. Meanwhile we kissed off minority votes for the foreseeable future.”
        “- Across the country, every major Democratic ballot initiative was successful, including every minimum wage increase, even in the red states.”
        “- Every personhood amendment failed.”
       “- For only the second time in fifty years Nebraska is sending a Democrat to Congress. Former Republican, Brad Ashford, defeated one of the GOP’s most stubborn climate deniers to take the seat.”
        “- Almost half of the Republican Congressional delegation now comes from the former Confederacy. Total coincidence, just pointing that out.”
        “- In Congress, there are no more white Democrats from the South. The long flight of the Dixiecrats has concluded.”
         “- Democrats in 2014 were up against a particularly tough climate because they had to defend 13 Senate seats in red or purple states. In 2016 Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats and at least 18 of them are likely to be competitive based on geography and demographics. Democrats will be defending precisely one seat that could possibly be competitive. One.”
        “- And that “Republican wave?” In Congressional elections this year it amounted to a total of 52% of the vote. That’s it.
       “- Republican support grew deeper in 2014, not broader. For example, new Texas Governor Greg Abbott won a whopping victory in the Republic of Baptistan. That’s great, but that’s a race no one ever thought would be competitive and hardly anyone showed up to vote in. Texas not only had the lowest voter turnout in the country (less than 30%), a position it has consistently held across decades, but that electorate is more militantly out of step with every national trend then any other major Republican bloc. Texas now holds a tenth of the GOP majority in the House.”
         “- Keep an eye on oil prices. Texas, which is at the core of GOP dysfunction, is a petro-state with an economy roughly as diverse and modern as Nigeria, Iran or Venezuela. It was been relatively untouched by the economic collapse because it is relatively dislocated from the US economy in general. Watch what happens if the decline in oil prices lasts more than a year.”
     Ladd I think gets it right. Most of the GOP advantages are just due to procedural chicanery that can’t last forever. He makes a good point about the GOP’s success in the energy states-we’ll see what happens now with falling oil prices. If the Dems are going to have a lock in the White House this will eventually-maybe in a Hillary Administration of 2016 overturn the conservative slant that the SJC has been under since the 80s. 
      In this context, Harry Reid’s use of the ‘nuclear option’ is even more fortuitous. Maybe the Dems should even consider extending it for SJC nominees. It has worked wonders.
      Look I’m not saying the Dems have nothing to worry about. For one thing the GOP will keep trying ways to cheat.
      Still, the long term trends do favor the Dems and I think it’s fair to say that they wouldn’t like to switch places with the GOP right now. 

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