Saturday, November 04, 2006

Charlie Cook's 6 Day Out Analysis

The November 1st election analysis at Cook Political Report really struck me hard. Cook tends to be on the conservative (football conservative, cautious) side of things, and the nature of his analysis really struck me hard. It seems right to me, but I tend to be optimistic about these things, I thought Kerry would beat Bush for example. Cook tends to try to avoid sticking his neck out, and at this point a few days from election day things look so bad for Republicans that Cook is predicting a massive tidal wave, which means one of two things, either for some reason Cook decided to stick his neck out when he usually doesn't, or things look so bad for the Republicans that he's not sticking his neck out at all and is following his usually cautious prognosticating pattern.
In the House, it would take a miracle for the GOP to hold onto their majority. The losses look very likely to exceed 20 seats, and a 20- to 35-seat loss is most likely, but we would not be surprised for it to exceed 35 seats. The vulnerable GOP seats are there, the wave is there, maybe it happens, maybe it doesn't.
Many have commented, quite correctly, that the biggest variables are turnout levels among independents and Republicans. If independents show up in their normal, relatively low midterm election levels, GOP losses will tend to run on the lower end of those ranges. But if there is a significant uptick in independent turnout, the losses could go much higher, as Democrats show huge leads among independents (20 points in some cases) in many races.
While the president is different, the party is different and the issues are different, this is not too dissimilar to 1994 when voters were upset about tax increases, the Clinton health plan and the crime bill (read guns), others were upset about several years of congressional scandals, the House Bank and Post Office, Jim Wright, David Durenberger, the Keating Five and Tony Coelho, to name a few. Republican turnout soared, Democratic vote plummeted, and while some credit the GOP "Contract with America," that is largely revisionist thinking. At the time voters were angry with President Clinton, Democrats and Congress, and they wanted to send a message. They wanted to throw some people out of office.

National polling continues to show a wave of at least the same magnitude of 1994, looking at right direction/wrong track, Congress and presidential job approval and the generic congressional ballot test and maybe even worse. At the same time, it is certainly true that the playing field of competitive districts is smaller, though significantly bigger than 30, 60 or 90 days ago, the number of Republican retirements is lower than average and Democrats are running, though not by design, fewer battle-tested candidates with records of winning tough races.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this election is that Republicans are having to fight and spend money in states and districts where few Democrats have dared tread in recent years, like in Idaho-01 (Butch Otter), Nebraska-03 (Tom Osborne) and Nevada-02 (Jim Gibbons). While this election started out as largely a fight in Northeastern and Midwestern suburban districts, the more recent additions to the competitive race lists have been disproportionately small town, rural and small cities, though not as many in the South but many in the West.
The bottom line is that at this stage, Republicans should consider themselves lucky if their net losses stay in the 20-25 range in the House, four or five seats in the Senate, and between five and eight governorships. It would be a tough election, losing their majorities in the House and governorships, but it would fall short of the devastating losses that are possible. But the chances of this thing going bigger -- far bigger -- still exist, and there are quite a few veteran Republican strategists, people who have done tons of races in all kinds of states and districts for many years, who are bracing themselves for that distinct possibility.

I really hope this is right, and being a cautious person Cook left himself an avenue for the lower end of what he thought possible. The moral 3 days before the election could not be clearer. We need to get Democrats and independents to the polls in big numbers. There is much work to do still to make the alleged tidal wave of 2006 a reality.

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