Democrats will not win U.S. House of Representatives

I would bet my shirt on this now. It would take a massive terrorist attack, the assassination of Ted Kennedy, George W. Bush (or a close relative) caught in bed with a dead child, the accidental introduction of total gun control by the Republicans in the Senate, or four million illegal immigrants given the vote (and they all vote Democrat in the right districts).

If Francine Busby, despite all the blogging efforts of the pro-Democrat left, couldn't win outright the 50th Congressional District of California - covering San Diego County - her party will not win the 11-15 seats its needs to gain nationally to take back the lower house after six consecutive general election defeats. Daily Kos is unhappy about turnout. So they should be: 36.19% should have been low enough to give the Democrats a chance of an upset victory, clearly not enough angry San Diego voters.

A classic example of failing to manage expectations on the part of MyDD (but then they make Pangloss seem like Cassandra).

In fairness to Mrs Busby, the run-off on June 6 coincides with the Republican primary for the seat's re-election in November.

Confused? In plain English it means that the 13 losing Republican candidates will not be able to campaign to be elected Congressman in June, but they can campaign to be the Republican candidate for Congressman in November. Voters on June 6 will have two votes, one for Congressman today and another for Republican candidate in five months. If that doesn't split the Republican vote, nothing will. Expect the Republican Party's National Committee to try and broker an uncontested primary on June 6. Expect it to fail.

I said it last year (see below), the best chance for the Democrats in 2006 is to pick off the governors. New York, California, Florida and Texas are all up for grabs and all in Republican hands. If the Democrats can capture three of these they should be very satisfied. Forget about the House of Representatives, forget about winning control of the Senate (another fantasy).

Where the Democrats can do real damage is in taking on potential Republican candidates for the presidency. John McCain may be the front-runner, but not decisively so.

At this time, I still think it would be wildly optimistic for the Democrats to win control of either chamber in Congress. But if they keep holding their Governorships, and pick away at the Republican lead in the House of Representatives, they may hang on until 2008, when the Republicans will be defending large numbers of Senate seats, and they have as yet no clear cut presidential candidate.


MSS said...

In this district, Bush won 55% in 2004. On Tuesday, fourteen Republicans--presumably including someone for all tendencies of the party--combined for only 53%.

In 2004, Busby won 36%. Democratic registration in the district is about 30%. On Tuesday Busby won almost 44% (and another Democrat won an additional 1.3%).

It is not clear to me what effect turnout would have on this race, but 36% is (sad to say) pretty good for a special election.

This result may or may not be good news for Busby, but a Democrat breaking 40% (easily!) in this district is clearly a warning shot to Republicans nationally.

More analysis here.

Antoine Clarke said...

The point is within a week of Tom DeLay quitting, replacing an incumbant ho has pleaded guity to charges of bribery and fraud, with the undivided campaign attentions of Democrats across the country, the result is... nothing.

In the UK, this sort of election would have been a pasting for the government party, and even so, it might not be enough to signal defeat at a general election.

If a local candidate, with all the advantages the Democrats have in the polls and with the corruption issue, can't win outright in San Diego in a special election, the Party can't win nationally.


MSS said...


I enjoy this blog and added it to my links recently (after seeing it at Make My Vote Count) because there are so few of us who do worldwide election watches. But, quite honestly, your "...Period" approach is not sound analysis from a political science perspective.

Busby gained about 8 percentage points compared to 2004 in one of the strongest Republican districts in California. That's the key point, if we want to draw general lessons applicable elsewhere, including in districts that are not as "safe" for the GOP.

Is this a harbinger that this year's midterm election could be in play? Sure it is. Does it mean Democrats will win the House? I have no idea.

But this is not the UK. We do not get the kind of by-election swings you get. In a US context, 8 points in a safe district is huge. If it were to occur in a substantial percentage of the closer districts nationwide, Democrats would take the House easily. That is not to say they will. But to look at this, from a UK frame, and say this somehow proves Democrats can't win makes little sense.

Of course, Democrats won't gain 8 points everywhere, because they won't have the advantage of an open seat everywhere. (That the seat is open is likely more important than who used to fill it and what happened with him, and surely more important than DeLay, whom most voters have probably never even heard of.)

On her being a "local candidate," true, she is. And this was her second race for this seat. But she was likely not well known till recent weeks, as the ad wars heated up. Her only prior elective experience is in a school board in one small part of the district. Ordinarily, that would not be considered the profile of a strong candidate, at least in the USA.

--Matthew Shugart

Anonymous said...

Sorry to go "anonymous" - this is Don, I just can't remember one more password!

Anyway, the key here is "special election." Yes, the 8-point swing in a safe election would be significant, but not that significant...if this were a regular election.

The low turnout, however, and a hot ad campaign are VERY indicative that the normal voters felt extraordinarily comfortable that Busby had no shot.

The "combined" 53% GOP turnout/vote is a clear indication that, of the tiny turnout, the minority interest generated nearly zero grassroots enthusiasm.

This is no warning shot. It is yet another semi-moral victory (i.e. defeat) in a long string of 'em.

Simply put, Democrats measure victory differently these days, because we haven't seen a solid victory since LBJ announced no second term. That set the "new" model for Democrat wins - the "declare victory and go home" model.

In fact, it is important to note that when insider Democrats talk of "winning the house" they really mean "not losing more seats, perhaps gaining a larger minority."

There may have been a time when Democrats had a legit dog in this fight, but if you think the rift among Republicans over immigration, spending cuts, security or what-have-you is anything akin to the chasm that divides Democrats (the war, the liberal-center clash, abortion, message...) you must be insane (sorry, I'm not singling anyone out here!)

Perhaps I'm too close to this. I'm a Democrat, after all. But the division we've faced, the empirical losses we've had among the traditional "blocs" - blacks, unions, ag, etc. have devastated us and the ideological rifts (which our leaders fail to acknowledge) have damaged us even worse. Immigrants are trending toward the GOP (business opportunity, not handouts).

We are addicted to the big tent "blocs" that no longer exist for us. We've painted ourselves into a corner over abortion by framing it as a personal liberty while ignoring the far greater civil rights issue that it encompasses. We've tried to Vietnam (again!) yet another successful Republican war, so have been unable to celebrate, or even acknowledge its victories with our countrymen.

And, for all our bluster, the fact that we can't figure out how to hijack one of the lowest targets of all - a special election in a poorly attended poll - tells me that we've got a long road ahead of us.

What a bunch of stupid kids started in '68 has never quite been resolved. The attack on the towers has split our facade of unity straight down the middle. We've got Truman/JFK Democrats (me), Bobby Kennedy/John Kerry Democrats and Howard Dean Democrats all in one boat. And we don't just disagree.

We hate each other. The big tent has ripped, the blocs have eroded, and the party has ceased to be a national one. The only successful Democrats in the Governor's offices (for the most part) are quasi-Clintonians, if that.

The only outlets who continue to portray us as a unified "minority" party is the media. The Rank and File know the truth. We've been to the caucuses, the rallies, the town meetings.

Matthew Shugart said...

There is only one problem with the "low turnout" analysis of this special election: Turnout was not low.

Special elections for US House seats have famously low turnout. (I will try to get some data and post later at F&V, and also link here.) Just one example: The 48th district special election late last year had turnout of around 23% (in both rounds).

Turnout in regular midterm elections in the US rarely breaks 40% and it is lower still in primaries in midterm years.

Here we had a special election primary in which turnout was around 39% (by latest estimates).

And the turnout was highest in those areas where Busby did best.

As I have said above, I have no idea whether this means Democrats will or will not retake the House. (I put up a post yesterday about their prospects in historical perspective.) But Democrats managed a strong turnout of their electorate in a special election in a usually "safe" Republican district. At the very least, it is a warning to Republicans that this could be a tough year. Remember, their majority in the House is only 15 seats.

MSS said...

I have to make a correction to my most recent comment, above. Turnout is calculated in various different ways in US elections (frustrating for us comparativists!).

Typical midterm congressional elections get around 40% turnout, defined as percent of voting age population.

The special House primary election in San Diego County got 39% of registered voters.

That 39% is still high compared to other special legislative elections. But it is obviously low compared to November general elections of non-presidential years.