WASHINGTON — Washington, D.C., is struggling to emerge from the throes of a difficult winter. And when the warm breezes of spring finally begin to take hold, the wind direction is likely to favor Republicans. Looking ahead to U.S. congressional elections in November, Republicans increasingly are confident they will make gains, especially in the Democratically-controlled Senate, and a growing consensus among experts is that 2014 is shaping up as a good year for Republicans and a difficult year for Democrats.
Lawmakers from both political parties and the White House are intently focused on the November midterm elections, when all 435 members of the House of Representatives are at stake, along with 36 of the 100 Senate seats. At the moment most political analysts say it is very likely that Republicans will hold or add to their majority in the House and have an excellent chance of gaining the six additional seats they need to win a majority in the Senate, now controlled by Democrats.
Adding to the Republican advantage is that several Democrats are either retiring or face tough races in Republican leaning states, according to John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center. “The Senate Republicans have a real opportunity to pick up seats, but they need six seats, which is a lot. The good news for Republicans is that many of these states are in very strongly Republican states.”
Fortier also noted that President Barack Obama’s low approval ratings in public opinion polls could help Republicans in November. “The two biggest factors underlying a midterm election are how is the economy doing, and how is the president in the White House doing. And ultimately midterm elections don’t go very well for the president’s party, they tend to go against it. And if the economy is worse, it’s even worse. And if the president’s unpopular, it’s even worse.”
Health Care Politics
Another major factor in this year’s election campaign will be the public’s view of the president’s health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act. Republicans plan to highlight their opposition to the law as a major campaign theme, including House Speaker John Boehner. “The truth is you can’t fix this law. It needs to be torn out by its roots. You may be tired of hearing about this, but as long as this law is around and making things worse, we are going to keep fighting it.”
Obama is quick to defend the law in speeches around the country, and he accuses Republicans of having no interest in trying to fix problems with the act. “And it is not just to try to improve the law or here is a particular problem with it. No, we just want to scrap it so that millions of people who now have health insurance, we want them to go back to not having health insurance. Well that is not going to happen.” The president also has been warning Democrats that they need to vote in November, noting that Republicans often do better in midterm elections because fewer voters overall turn up at the polls.
Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center said recent polling does not detect a huge Republican surge at the moment. He said, though, that the voters who turn out for midterm congressional elections, as opposed to presidential elections, tend to be older and whiter than the rest of the electorate, and that should benefit Republicans this November. “What it is showing is that there is no wave election for the Republicans or the Democrats at this point. It looks pretty even, which means the [voter] turnout is going to be the big factor, and Republicans in midterms do pretty well in turnout.”
A Republican takeover of the Senate would set the stage for more legislative gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency, said longtime political analyst Tom DeFrank of the National Journal. DeFrank told VOA’s Issues in the News program that the president may need to have his veto pen at the ready if Republicans wind up controlling both chambers of Congress. “If he loses the Senate in November he will be reduced to governing by veto, denying the Republicans what they want to do. I think it is gridlock and damage control the rest of the way.”
Republicans last controlled both houses of Congress during the administration of President George W. Bush. They lost control of both chambers to Democrats following the 2006 congressional midterm elections, a wave election that presaged Obama’s election two years later. Republicans experienced their own wave election in 2010 when whey they retook control of the House.
Even if Republicans do win enough seats to win a majority of the Senate this November, it’s possible their success will be short-lived. Two years from now in 2016 there will be 33 Senate seats up for election. Republicans control 23 of seats and Democrats 10, and several of the Republican Senate seats are in Democratic-leaning states like Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. That should give an advantage to Democrats for the 2016 cycle. For the moment, however, they are much more worried about their Senate hopes this year.