Midterm Elections Forecast

Posted in: G-Town News- Oct 18, 2010 No Comments

This year’s midterm elections have given rise to a new political force — the tea party. The grassroots movement successfully ran primary campaigns for several Senate and House of Representative seats. The group’s real test will come on Nov. 2, when the country runs its nationwide general elections. Election results also could shift control of political majorities in both houses. Government professor Clyde Wilcox makes his election predictions, talks about what the outcome could mean for the Obama administration and considers whether the tea party has a future.

Q. Pundits are issuing dire predictions for the Democrats. Do you agree that the party is poised for huge losses?

A. I would say it won’t be as bad for them as early predictions. Democrats have made gains in recent weeks. But still, the odds are that the Republicans will gain the House. If they have a particularly good night, they could easily take the Senate as well. My prediction is that Republicans won’t get the Senate, but will get the House.

Q. What would that split mean for President Obama’s agenda going forward?

A. Honestly, it wouldn’t make much difference for Obama whether the Senate is in his control slightly or slightly in Republican control. With the filibuster rule, neither party will have the 60 votes needed in the Senate. There’s going to be stalemate no matter what unless the parties learn to compromise.

In the House of Representatives, the rules are easier for the majority party to operate. They can hold hearings on anything; they can pass a series of bills that tries to embarrass the president. But unless the Senate agrees, those bills will never get to the president anyway.

Q. It sounds like you’re saying we’re in for at least two years of little productivity in Congress.

A. It has been two years of this already. This has been the greatest example I’ve ever seen in my life of one party just systematically stalling and not letting anything happen. Now, it looks like we’ll get even more of that.

You can flash back to 1994 when the Republicans were in control of Congress, but you didn’t see the same situation. Republicans were willing to compromise. They threatened, cajoled and even shut down the government at one point. But even as they tried to remove the president from office, they were still negotiating with him on health care and education and so forth.

Q. The tea party proved a big spoiler in primary elections. What effect is the movement having on the midterms?

A. The tea party certainly has energized the Republican turnout in primary and caucus elections, but it has often done so at the expense of mainstream Republican candidates. For instance, in Delaware you saw Mike Castle — a very electable Republican (for the Senate) — lose to a woman who said that her first date was on a satanic altar.

Q. Do any of the tea party candidates have a good chance of winning the general election?

A. It’s certainly not out of the question. Even though the wind has shifted back to the Democrats recently, if another shift occurs, lots of tea party wins could happen. It’s not out of the question for Christine O’Donnell to win (the Senate race) in Delaware, and in Nevada, Harry Reid could lose. His opponent is ahead there right now.

Q. How could the Republican Party change if tea party candidates get elected?

A. The Republicans have been extraordinarily united behind the word ‘no’ in recent years. If they become the majority in both chambers, they have to get united behind the word ‘yes.’ They’ll have to come up with budgets and decide whether to repeal the entire health care bill.

Within the party already, before you even add in the tea party, there’s pretty wide disagreement about how to do these things. The tea party people make it even more interesting when they need to be brought into some Republican coalition.

Q. Do you see the tea party becoming a mainstream political party in the future?

A. Right now, they’re a party faction if anything. Social movements usually don’t become political parties, just because of the way our party system is set up. But sometimes they can take over a party, or a party moves in the movement’s direction to accommodate them. Is the tea party a lasting force that pushes the Republicans further to the right? We’ll have to see.

But just unfocused anger is not enough. If you think about other social movements that have been successful — civil rights, the women’s movement, gay and lesbian rights, the workers’ movement — they’ve all been very well thought out movements about how a certain group of people is treated. The tea party is more about how people are afraid. I don’t see them lasting more than an election cycle.

Editor’s Note:
The diverse views presented in the Focal Point section are not intended to imply institutional endorsement and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or offcial policies of the university.

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