Demo­cratic mar­gins and vic­to­ries

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

In seiz­ing ma­jor­ity con­trol of the Se­nate in the 2006 midterm elec­tions, the Democrats man­aged to do it the hard way. They knocked off six in­cum­bent Repub­li­can sen­a­tors. In ad­di­tion, not only did each of the 15 Se­nate Democrats seek­ing re-elec­tion emerge vic­to­ri­ous, but Democrats also re­tained two open seats (Min­nesota and Mary­land) and a seat held by a Demo­crat­ic­cau­cus­ing in­de­pen­dent (Ver­mont). Thus, Democrats swept all 18 Demo­cratic-held seats. Al­to­gether, Demo­cratic can­di­dates won 24 of the 33 Se­nate seats that were con­tested. Con­sid­er­ing the six Repub­li­can in­cum­bents de­feated in Penn­syl­va­nia, Rhode Is­land, Vir­ginia, Mon­tana, Mis­souri and Ohio, the GOP lost 40 per­cent of the Repub­li­can-held seats con­tested in 2006.

It isn’t easy for one party to de­feat at least six in­cum­bent sen­a­tors from the other party. In fact, in the 46 op­por­tu­ni­ties dur­ing the 23 bi­en­nial elec­tions held from 1960 through 2004, it had hap­pened only twice. Repub­li­cans de­feated nine in­cum­bent Democrats in 1980. In 1986, when Democrats re­cap­tured six of the nine in­cum­bent-held seats they had lost six years ear­lier, Democrats beat seven in­cum­bent Repub­li­cans. In­deed, in­cum­bents had be­come so en­trenched in Congress in re­cent years that no party lost more than five in­cum­bent mem­bers of the House (where all 435 seats are con­tested ev­ery two years) in any elec­tion af­ter 1996 and be­fore 2006. So, when Democrats de­feated six Repub­li­can sen­a­tors ear­lier this month, it was a very big deal.

How did it hap­pen? In a nutshell, in all six states where Repub­li­can sen­a­tors lost, the Demo­cratic can­di­dates per­formed bet­ter among self-iden­ti­fied mod­er­ate vot­ers in the ide­o­log­i­cal cat­e­gory (lib­er­als, moder­ates and con­ser­va­tives). In five of the six states, Democrats re­ceived sig­nif­i­cant ma­jori­ties from in­de­pen­dent vot­ers in the party-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cat­e­gory (Democrats, Repub­li­cans and In­de­pen­dents). In the sixth state (Rhode Is­land), where Repub­li­can Sen. Lin­coln Chafee out­polled his Demo­cratic op­po­nent (Shel­don Whitehouse) among in­de­pen­dents (55-45), it did not mat­ter be­cause (a) Democrats out­num­bered Repub­li­cans by more than two-toone and (b) Mr. Whitehouse won a ma­jor­ity (52-48) among the 56 per­cent of the vot­ers who iden­ti­fied them­selves as moder­ates.

Con­sider the break­down among moder­ates and in­de­pen­dents in the five other states. In Vir­ginia, where Demo­cratic can­di­date Jim Webb de­feated Sen. Ge­orge Allen 49.6 per­cent to 49.3 per­cent, Mr. Webb won 56 per­cent of the votes of in­de­pen­dents, who made up one-quar­ter of the vot­ers. Even though con­ser­va­tives (35 per­cent of the Vir­ginia elec­torate) out­num­bered lib­er­als (21 per­cent), Mr. Webb crushed Mr. Allen (60 per­cent to 40 per­cent) among the 44 per­cent of the elec­torate call­ing them­selves moder­ates. In Ohio, Demo­cratic sen­a­to­rial can­di­date Sher­rod Brown soundly beat (55.9-44.1) two-term mod­er­ate Sen. Mike DeWine (who won re-elec­tion in 2000 by 24 points) be­cause Mr. Brown achieved 65-35 ma­jori­ties among both moder­ates (48 per­cent of the Ohio elec­torate) and in­de­pen­dents (23 per­cent).

In the tight race in Mis­souri, where Claire McCaskill beat Repub­li­can Sen. Jim Tal­ent (49.5-47.4), she out­polled him 51-43 among in­de­pen­dents (25 per­cent of vot­ers) in state where Democrats (37 per­cent) es­sen­tially equaled Repub­li­cans (38 per­cent). Al­though self-iden­ti­fied con­ser­va­tives (37 per­cent of Mis­souri vot­ers, 83 per­cent of whom voted for Mr. Tal­ent) con­sid­er­ably out­num­bered lib­er­als (21 per­cent of vot­ers, 83 per­cent of whom sup­ported Mrs. McCaskill), the Demo­cratic can­di­date won be­cause she out­polled the in­cum­bent (62-35) among the 43 per­cent of Mis­souri vot­ers who called them­selves moder­ates. In Mon­tana, which Pres­i­dent Bush won by 25 points in 2000 and 21 points in 2004, Repub­li­can vot­ers this year out­num­bered Democrats (39-32) and con­ser­va­tives ex­ceeded lib­er­als by a 34-19 mar­gin. How­ever, Demo­cratic sen­a­to­rial can­di­date Jon Tester still man­aged to beat three-term Mon­tana GOP Sen. Con­rad Burns be­cause in­de­pen­dents (29 per­cent of vot­ers) and moder­ates (47 per­cent of vot­ers) sup­ported Mr. Tester over Sen. Burns by 59-35 and 59-38 mar­gins, re­spec­tively. Penn­syl­va­nia’s Demo­cratic can­di­date, Bob Casey Jr., beat two-term Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Rick San­to­rum by more than 17 points in large part be­cause 72 per­cent of in­de­pen­dents and 65 per­cent of moder­ates voted for Mr. Casey.

Of course, the Repub­li­cans’ prob­lems with in­de­pen­dents and moder­ates were not con­fined to the six los­ing GOP sen­a­tors. The na­tional exit poll for House races re­vealed that Demo­cratic can­di­dates achieved a 22-point ad­van­tage (60-38) among the 47 per­cent of the elec­torate call­ing them­selves moder­ates and an 18-point ad­van­tage among the 26 per­cent of vot­ers who were in­de­pen­dents. In mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the over­all 54-46 Demo­cratic ad­van­tage in House races across the coun­try, th­ese blowout Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties among moder­ates and in­de­pen­dents aug­mented the slight ad­van­tage Democrats (38 per­cent of vot­ers) held over Repub­li­cans (36 per­cent) and over­whelmed the large ad­van­tage con­ser­va­tives (32 per­cent of the elec­torate) held over lib­er­als (20 per­cent).

The 2000 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, when Ge­orge W. Bush beat Al Gore by five elec­toral votes de­spite re­ceiv­ing a smaller share (47.87 per­cent ver­sus 48.38 per­cent) of the pop­u­lar vote, was ar­guably a closer elec­tion than the 1960 vic­tory (49.72-49.55) by John Kennedy, who re­ceived 84 more elec­toral votes than Richard Nixon. As close as the 2000 pres­i­den­tial pop­u­lar vote was (Mr. Gore re­ceived 537,000 more votes than Mr. Bush, al­though the ul­ti­mately de­cid­ing fac­tor was Mr. Bush’s 537-vote mar­gin in Florida), the pop­u­lar vote for the Se­nate turned out to be much closer. In win­ning 18 of the 33 Se­nate races in 2000, Democrats out­polled Repub­li­cans by a mere 50,001 votes (36,971,061 to 36,921,060). The two-party per­cent­age break­down was 50.03 to 49.97, and when all the dust had set­tled, the Se­nate was dead­locked 50-50 af­ter the 2000 elec­tions.

How the early 2001 50-50 Se­nate, where Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney was avail­able to cast tie-break­ing votes, evolved into a 5149 Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity af­ter the 2006 elec­tions of­fers some in­ter­est­ing arith­meti­cal in­sights. In May 2001, Ver­mont Repub­li­can Jim Jef­fords bolted the GOP; be­gan cau­cus­ing with the Democrats; and thus flipped con­trol of the Se­nate to Democrats (51-49). In­clud­ing the spe­cial elec­tion in Mis­souri, Repub­li­cans won 22 of the 34 Se­nate seats con­tested in 2002 by re­ceiv­ing 21.6 mil­lion (52.05 per­cent) of the 41.4 mil­lion votes cast. The GOP re­gained a nar­row 51-49 ma­jor­ity. In 2004, Demo­cratic sen­a­to­rial can­di­dates re­ceived 42.5 mil­lion votes, 4.1 mil­lion more votes than Repub­li­can can­di­dates re­ceived (38.4 mil­lion votes). But the GOP won 19 of the 34 Se­nate con­tests.

Thus, af­ter the 2004 elec­tions, Repub­li­cans en­joyed a 55-45 Se­nate ma­jor­ity — de­spite the fact that Repub­li­can can­di­dates in th­ese 100 con­tests had re­ceived fewer to­tal votes than Democrats did. In­deed, lib­er­als (par­tic­u­larly Hen­drik Hertzberg of the New Yorker, as well as Brad DeLong and other left-wing blog­gers) have jus­ti­fied the Demo­cratic Party’s fil­i­bus­ter­ing and other ob­struc­tion­ist tac­tics in the Se­nate in part be­cause Demo­cratic can­di­dates in the pre­vi­ous three elec­tions (2000, 2002 and 2004) had cu­mu­la­tively re­ceived nearly 2.5 mil­lion more votes than Repub­li­can can­di­dates (99.35 mil­lion ver­sus 96.89 mil­lion).

In­dica­tive of the mon­strous size of the Demo­cratic blowout in this year’s Se­nate elec­tions is the fact that Demo­cratic can­di­dates out­polled their Repub­li­can op­po­nents by nearly 7.5 mil­lion votes (32.974 mil­lion vs. 25.547 mil­lion). Among the two-party vote, Democrats achieved a stag­ger­ing 12.7 per­cent­age-point mar­gin (56.35 per­cent to 43.65 per­cent). No won­der they won 24 of the 33 con­tests this year, which will give them a 51-49 ma­jor­ity in the 110th Congress be­gin­ning in Jan­uary. Over the last three elec­tions (2002, 2004 and 2006), Demo­cratic sen­a­to­rial can­di­dates have re­ceived nearly 10 mil­lion more votes than Repub­li­can can­di­dates (95.352 mil­lion ver­sus 85.512 mil­lion). In forg­ing their 51-49 Se­nate ma­jor­ity and com­pil­ing their 52.7 per­cent to 47.3 per­cent ad­van­tage in the vot­ing booth, Democrats re­ceived 11.5 per­cent more votes than Repub­li­cans.

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