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Republicans Poised for Gains in U.S. House of Representatives

By Ralph Dannheisser

Special Correspondent

Washington — Republicans and Democrats are campaigning feverishly in the final days before the nationwide congressional elections November 2. Nearly all analysts predict the Republican Party will gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Those predictions from pollsters and politicians differ only in the extent of the shift, and whether it will be sufficient to turn the House majority from Democratic to Republican.

Such an outcome would have major consequences: The majority party selects the body’s top official, the speaker of the House. The speaker sets the agenda for the chamber, determining what legislation will be considered and when.

The speaker — currently Democrat Nancy Pelosi — ranks second behind the vice president in line of succession to the presidency. It is likely that John Boehner, now the minority leader, would be elected to the speakership if the Republicans prevail, although members could bypass him and select someone else.

All 435 House seats are filled by elections every two years. That contrasts with the Senate’s overlapping six-year terms, where about a third of the 100 seats are up for election every two years.

Democrats hold a commanding margin of 255 House seats to 178 for the Republicans, with two vacancies. Republicans must pick up 39 seats to take control.

Historically, the president’s party tends to lose seats in the election that occurs halfway through his four-year term of office. The biggest shift in the past 50 years came in 1994, when Republicans took over the House with a 53-seat gain halfway through President Bill Clinton’s first term.


As of October 26, the Real Clear Politics website, which tracks a range of credible polls and synthesizes the results, projected 178 seats as safely, likely or leaning Democratic and 223 in the Republican column, with 34 considered too close to predict.

Iowa Electronic Markets, a futures prediction market operated as a research tool by the University of Iowa, historically has achieved greater accuracy than opinion polls. Late on October 26, IEM projected an 88.8 percent likelihood that Republicans will take control of the House in the 112th Congress, scheduled to convene in January 2011.

The widely respected Cook Political Report also favors Republicans, projecting that more than 91 seats now held by Democrats are in play, compared with only nine Republican-held seats in jeopardy. As of October 26, it raised its estimate of the Democrats’ net loss to between 48 and 60 seats — more than enough to tip majority status to the Republican Party.

Still, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote on October 18 that he was “cautious about the conventional wisdom that the Democratic Party is about to get flattened by a Republican steamroller.” He argued it is “easy to imagine how Democrats, facing near-unanimous predictions of

a wipeout, could bestir themselves just enough to turn a potential ‘wave’ election into a regular midterm setback for the party in power.”


A complicating factor is the emergence of the “tea party” movement, a loose-knit group of activists who generally support smaller government, lower taxes and strict adherence to the U.S. Constitution. They have sought to marshal opposition to signature Obama administration programs, prominently including health care reform. Tea party activists, while generally supporting Republican candidates, have been dismissive of party “insiders” they view as overly willing to compromise.

Money has emerged as a key factor in the campaign — already the most expensive midterm elections ever — while both sides continue last-minute fundraising for advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts.

A Supreme Court decision in January freed independent groups to spend unlimited money raised by corporations and labor unions on ads aimed at the election or defeat of candidates, without being required to reveal their donors. By October 17, spending by outside groups to influence congressional races had passed $220 million, the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation reported.

Moreover, the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported the next day that House campaign committees themselves had raised nearly $1 billion, putting them on a pace to exceed record receipts reported for 2008.

Dick Morris, once a key strategist for President Bill Clinton but now allied with the tea party movement, has created an independent fundraising group called Super PAC for America. In online appeals, he has set a goal of raising $3 million “to defeat 100 Democrats in Congress.”

Democrats also are making repeated e-mail appeals to prospective donors, typically sent over the signatures of party leaders. One such e-mail, in Pelosi’s name, declares that with the election just days away, Democrats “cannot wake up with a single regret that there was more we could have done to protect our … majority.”

Another, sent by Representative Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, implores supporters to fund last-minute television ads and to help turn out the vote to “keep the special-interest barbarians from the gate and retain our strong Democratic majority.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele declared on NBC’s Meet the Press October 24 that “the [House] balance of power will shift.” But Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine told ABC’s This Week that although “it’s going to be close,” he believes his party can hold on to majority control. “We’ve got work to do, but we think we can do it.”

Campaigning has picked up in the final pre-election days.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a tea party favorite, has undertaken a coast-to-coast tour on behalf of a national group, Tea Party Express. Another national group, Tea Party Patriots, has organized several rounds of get-out-the-vote house parties.

Meanwhile, President Obama, Vice President Biden and former President Clinton have been crisscrossing the country, campaigning almost nonstop in these final days and focusing on close races.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
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