Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stephen Solarz--Redistricting, Congressional Reform, and Foreign Policy Activism

Yesterday saw the passing of former New York Democratic Congressman Stephen Solarz.  As his obituary notes, there is much to mention upon his death and much that is of interest to us here.  For example, Solarz came to Congress as a member of the famed "Class of '74."  In the aftermath of Watergate, Democrats scored huge gains in the 1974 midterms, picking up 48 House and 4 Senate seats.  As we continue to digest this year's midterms, it's always useful to go back and look at other elections that saw huge turnover.  With every wave comes a crop of new members seeking to make their mark--usually sooner rather than later.

This "Class of '74" was important institutionally as well.  As I always discuss in my class on the US Congress, the early '70's were a period of dramatic transition for the Congress.  With large numbers of ambitious new members--like Solarz--the era of the "Old Bulls" came to an end.  Strict seniority rules for choosing committee chairmanships were abolished, the subcommittee structure was expanded, and the number of party leadership positions grew.  Thus, power in Congress became much more decentralized, all to the advantage of this new crop of members.  This decentralization happened in tandem with attempts by Congress, systemically, to realign the balance of power between itself and the President.

Solarz was extremely aggressive in using his new seat, within this changing congressional context, to assert himself in the making of American foreign policy.  For each of the past 12 years I've taught a course on the role of Congress in American foreign policy.  The underlying theme for the course is that Congress--its members, structures, etc.--is for numerous reasons temperamentally uncomfortable as an active participant in foreign policy, despite its constitutional prerogatives.  Most members have little incentive, preparation, or expertise for this work.  Solarz was very much the exception to this from the onset of his career.  By the time he left Congress he was one of a small handful of members, especially in the House, who were not only involved in foreign policy but could point to tangible results of their work.

Finally, we should note that the end of his career, although no doubt affected by his role in the infamous House bank scandal, was more than anything brought about by the rough and tumble process of redistricting.  With the boroughs of New York being an ethnic mosaic unlike any other in our country, gotham districts have often been carved to create distinct constituencies with a specific ethnic flavor.  Consider this description of Solarz's 13th District, from the 1976 Almanac of American Politics:

The 13th congressional district of New York, in south central Brooklyn, might be called the Ocean Parkway district: it takes in terrain from both sides of that thoroughfare as it makes its way from Prospect Park to Coney Island.  There is a large Italian American community in Bensonhurst, most of which was removed from the district by the 1974 redistricting; still the 13th, according at least to the census figures, is one of the most heavily Italian American districts in the nation.  But most of the neighborhoods here, from Midwood in the north, through the streets lined with low rise apartments along the Parkway, to Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, and Coney Island in the south, are heavily Jewish.  With Flatbush, most of which is in the 16th district, the 13th is the heart of Jewish Brooklyn.  Though no reliable data exist, the 13th is probably the nation's most heavily Jewish district, and most likely the 13th and the 16th are the only Jewish majority districts in the nation.  It is, of course, overwhelmingly Democratic by tradition.

By the 1990's, however, efforts were underway to use the redistricting process to increase minority representation.  With states like New York losing House seats in reapportionment, districts were often combined and lines radically redrawn, upsetting the ethnic balance that was in place.  Thus, Solarz was forced to run for re-nomination in 1992 in the newly drawn 12th district.  CQ's Politics in America from the time describes the result:

One certainty of New York's redistricting for the 1990s was that a second Hispanic-majority district would be created.  As a result of an ongoing influx that began just after World War II, Hispanic population had grown by 1990 to nearly a quarter of the city's total.  Yet only the South Bronx House district had sent a Hispanic to Congress.

Drawing a new Hispanic majority district, however, was no easy matter.  Unlike blacks, who often live in geographic concentrations, Hispanic immigrants settled in disparate low and middle income communities across the city's five boroughs.  Mapmakers had to go block-by-block to build a district that could reasonably assure a Hispanic's election.  The result was the 12th, one of the most unusually shaped House districts in the nation's history.  It follows a widely meandering path through parts of three New York City boroughs: Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

In the resulting six way Democratic primary Solarz was defeated by Nydia Velazquez, an activist in the New York Puerto Rican community.  She holds the seat to this day, having risen to the chairmanship of the House Committee on Small Business.  The district was quite radically redrawn again after the 2000 census and now includes more western and northern neighborhoods in Brooklyn.  The heart of Solarz's 13th district is now divided between the neighboring 10th and 11th.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Lots of Losses Out Yonder

During my election night posting, I mused about the end of the southern rural Democrat.  It turns out that not only were the ranks of southern rural Democrats decimated, but that rural Democrats nationwide had a very, very bad night.  This story by the Daily Yonder, a great site dedicated to rural politics and policy, dispels the notion that Tuesday's losses were distinctly southern in flavor.  Looking at the 125 most rural districts in the country, we see how badly Democrats fared.  Check out the map above to get a visual sense of what happened.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

More Midterm Musings

Some more quick hits as we start to get some real data:

The best predictor of whether a Democratic incumbent would lose?  The underlying partisanship of their district.  Seems obvious, right?  In all the post mortems, John Sides at TheMonkeyCage reminds us that fundamentals matter.  Swing districts are the most likely candidates to flip.  Because swing districts are found across the country Tuesday's GOP gains, as I noted yesterday, were not concentrated in any one region.

On the turnout front, there are some indications that the Latino vote mattered quite a bit, especially out west.  The Democrats can perhaps thank Latino voters for keeping their Senate majority.  As the GOP wave swept westward, it lost momentum by the time it hit Colorado, Nevada, and California--three states with large Latino populations.  Nate Silver picks up on this from a polling perspective, showing how the polling in the states with the largest Latino populations tended to be the most off in terms of predicting winners.  A few weeks back I attended a forum at the Center for American Progress on the Latino vote.  I was going to do a post on it, but the event turned out to be kind of a dud.  Some interesting takeaways though was a discussion on the difference between primarily English or Spanish speaking Latinos.  Estimates are that about 40% of the Latino population is primarily Spanish speaking and that these voters tend to be more strongly Democratic than English speaking Latinos.

On the redistricting front, two states approved provisions to eliminate the gerrymandering of districts and take the process out of the hands of state legislators.  Moving in the direction of a state like Iowa, California and Florida will seek a redistricting process based solely on population numbers and geographical contiguity.  California and Florida are two of the most gerrymandered states in the country.

I'm going to have more to say about Wisconsin as we move forward, but suffice it to say, the results were staggering when compared to 2008.  Whereas President Obama outperformed his national average in the Badger State during the presidential race, Tuesday so a massive reversal of Wisconsin's recent voting trends.  Going into Tuesday, Wisconsin had 2 Democratic Senators, a 5/3 advantage for Dems. in the House delegation, a Democratic governor, and Democratic majorities in both houses of the State Legislature.  After Tuesday: Split Senate delegation, 5/3 Republican advantage in the House delegation, a Republican governor, and Republican majorities in both state houses.  An absolute wipeout.  This article in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gives an excellent rundown of what happened at the top of the ballot, including an emphasis on turnout.  While turnout was high overall and constant in the big Democratic counties of Milwaukee and Dane, it surged in the suburbs surrounding Milwaukee (Ozaukee, Waukesha, and Washington), propelling Ron Johnson and Scott Walker to victory.  Not only that, but as the below maps show, their vote totals, down to the county level were virtually identical.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Starting To Dig Into The Results

You already know what happened.  Some first thoughts as we start to dig in.

Here's the list of House and Senate seats that changed hands, including defeated incumbents.  What's striking is how broad the geography of these losses were for the Democrats.  Republicans gained seats in 33 states across the country.  This was not an election that was regionalized although some stretches of land were a killing field for the Democrats--namely Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.  Essentially if I were to drive from my house to visit my parents, I'd traverse the land that gave the Republicans their majority.  I-70 stretches across this part of the country.  This sets up the battleground for Obama's re-election.  Expect him to spend a lot of time here over the next 2 years.  Not surprisingly, the Rust Belt has hemorrhaged jobs over the last decade with many parts having higher than the national average in unemployment.

The second source of Democratic losses, including some from the above states, was among the Blue Dog Coalition which essentially saw its ranks cut in half.  These conservative, often rural and southern, Democrats were no match for yesterday's wave.  Despite the fact that many voted against health care reform, cap and trade, and other parts of the Democratic agenda, they lost in droves.  The result of this is the creation of a smaller, yet more liberal, Democratic caucus.  Progressives have always criticized Blue Dogs as being Democrat-lite and impediments to more liberal policy.  Nonetheless, without them you don't have a majority.

Seniority wasn't insulation to defeat.  Normally the most difficult campaign that a member of Congress will have will be his earliest ones.  In the first few terms members are still learning the job, learning their district, and are thus susceptible to being knocked off.  They haven't built up a record and reputation to deter serious challengers.  Yesterday's losses were across the seniority spectrum.  26 of the incumbents knocked off were in either their first or second term--products of the 2006 and 2008 Democratic waves.  At the same time, 3 committee chairmen (Oberstar, Spratt, and Skelton) were also knocked off as were 14 term Rich Boucher (VA), 13 term Paul Kanjorski (PA), and 10 term Gene Taylor (MS) and Chet Edwards (TX).

Aside from these numbers and trends, another subject that has been discussed in the commentary today relates to the upcoming re-districting process.  With the census concluded, state legislatures will undertake the process of redrawing House district lines to correspond with population growth and shifts.  Results in governor's and statehouse races will obviously affect how this process proceeds on a state by state basis.  Something that I haven't heard discussed however, is how redistricting will have an immediate effect on the members elected for the first time last night.

All of the incoming freshmen members (with the exception of those from one district states) were elected from a constituency that is going to change over the next year.  Rather than have time to learn the contours of their district and develop the representative skills to maintain their seat, they have to assume that the people who just elected them are not necessarily going to be there to vote for them in 2012--many of them will be pushed into neighboring districts while others from surrounding areas are added.  This has to be unsettling to these members, especially those elected by small margins.  Furthermore, a number of states where Republicans made gains--Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York--are slated to lose seats in the reapportionment process.  Depending on how these states redistrict, GOP gains could be wiped out not by the 2012 elections but by the hand of mapmakers.  This is a dynamic that I would pay a lot of attention to over the next year or so.

That's it for now.  More to come.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Midterm Live Blogging

Here we go.  I'm doing my monitoring strictly on-line.  I can't stand tv coverage so for my sanity's sake--and for you, my fair readers--we're going to do this without having to cut through the yammering of Chris Mathews and other "experts."

8:23:  So far, things not looking good for Democrats in Virginia.  Pereillo going down, which was expected.  The bigger story is Rich Boucher down in coal country.  Boucher had always been able to not only hold this corner of the state, but do so quite handily.  Apparently that's over, which is a shame as I always found him to be a pretty serious, policy oriented member.  Gerry Connolly also in trouble in northern VA.  Along with Nye down in Hampton Roads area, Dems could lose 4.

8:34:  Connecticut Senate called for Blumenthal.  Republican hopes for the Senate take a hit.  Not unexpected but R's are going to need to run the table.

8:37: Manchin win called in WV.  That should pretty much end the R's Senate dream.  Only question seems to be whether Reid will be around to lead or if Schumer/Durbin battle looms.

8:45: Wisconsin getting ready to close in 15 minutes.  Polling shows bad night for Dems on the horizon.  Keep an eye out for 7th.  Obey open seat the most competitive.  Feingold not in good shape for Senate seat.

8:49: Boyd down big in FL-2.  Blue dogs are having their ranks decimated.  New Congress is going to be much more partisan as the remaining moderates are purged. 

8:52: Giannoulias looking good in IL w/12% in.  As with all IL races it will be the magnitude of Chicago turnout that determines the outcome here.  Does the machine still live???

8:55: Marcy Kaptur has a good night in what could be an ugly night for OH Dems.  Electoral Politics Rule 1: Don't dress like a Nazi.

9:05: Networks calling it for a Republican House majority.

9:20: Indiana's "The Bloody 9th" flips again.  Baron Hill out.  One of the most competitive districts in the country cycle after cycle.

9:29: New Hampshire goes back to its Republican roots?  Both House seats flip plus R's hold Senate.  Yet...Dems hold Governorship.

9:31: Just in case anyone was unclear about First Amendment, Oklahoma has voted to ban Sharia law.  Good God.

9:36: Dems. Kanjorski and Carney in big trouble in NE Pennsylvania.

9:41: Rahall holds on in WV.  Wonder how much Manchin momentum helped him.  Very ugly race as Lebanese American Rahall tarred with "Arab" tag.  Glad this kind of crap wasn't rewarded, at least here.

9:44: Lincoln Davis seems done in TN.  Another Blue Dog.  How many rural southern Dems left???  Chet Edwards also out in TX.

For Dems out there, might I recommend Clynelish 14 y.o. Single Malt Scotch?  Quite nice as I'm enjoying it now.

10:03: For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans hold the North Carolina legislature.  Gotta get my Eric Foner out to get the history.

10:11: Dems. Marshall and Bishop going down in Georgia.  The south is becoming essentially Republican unless you've got a sizable black population in your district.  Shuler hangs on in NC but he's very much the exception.

10:25: Wisconsin in for big changes.  Looks like two House seats flip (7 and 8).  Scott Walker elected Governor.  Obama got 56% in WI, one of his most impressive performances for a swing state.  WI unemployment not as bad as other Rust Belt states.

10:32: If anyone would have told you, 2 years ago, that West Virginia would be a bright spot for Democrats in the future, you'd have thought they were certifiable.  2010 is the bizarro 2008.

10:42: Russ Feingold defeated in Wisconsin.  Never won by a lot but was reliable.  Can't wait to see turnout data.  Low turnout in Dane and Milwaukee???  The Progressive tradition in WI really took a hit tonight.  With Feingold loss and Obey retirement, few remnants left.

10:48: South Texas has 4 Latino Dem. House members.  After tonight only 2 may be left.  Ortiz out, Rodriguez trailing badly.

10:54:  Only about 10-15% in for most races, but things looking really weird in upstate NY.  GOP renaissance where they previously only held 1 seat???  Numbers may not hold but interesting nonetheless, especially as GOP did well elsewhere in NE, especially NH.

11:07: How could so many PA Dem Incumbents lose but there still be a close Senate race?  Normally, I don't think campaigns matter much compared to underlying fundamentals but Sestak seems to be proving that wrong.

11:12: $160 million isn't quite enough to win CA Gov's race.  Moonbeam back.

11:18: Gene Taylor looks done in MS gulf district.  Longtime Blue Dog.  Well tanned, great hair, Catholic.  Fixture at Capitol Hill haunts Tune Inn and Hawk n Dove.  Better settle up on your tab.

11:25: Old Bulls and Dem Committee Chairs Spratt (SC) and Skelton (MO) go down.  Two more rural Dems hit the canvas.

11:35: Wave doesn't seem to crest over Mississippi River in Iowa.  3 Dem. House incumbents holding on.  Minnesota also holding solid for Dems, plus Gov. pickup.  Wisconsin really looking like an outlier now in my mind.

11:39:  Scott Brown doesn't improve Massachusetts GOP chances.  House delegation stays 10-0 Dem. with win in Delahunt open seat.  Deval Patrick re-elected Gov.

11:50: Grandpa voted, junior didn't.  Exit polls show a huge shift in turnout based on age compared to 2008.

12:07: No longer the one.  John Hall, former lead singer of Orleans, out in NY.  Those early NY numbers coming to bear.

12:17: First African American GOP congressman elected since J.C. Watts.  Tim Scott wins easily in SC.  With Susanna Martinez elected as first ever Hispanic female Governor (NM), is this the most diverse GOP since Reconstruction???

12:28: Reid seems to have it well in hand in NV.  Murray hanging on in WA.  All things considered, Dems seemed to do better out west.  Not sure what this means yet.

I'm going to sign off for tonight.  There's a lot to digest and sort through.  I may hold off tomorrow to allow me to put something together that isn't stream of consciousness.  There will be enough commentary out there to hold you over.

What Will Happen Today

In short, I have no idea.

All media accounts and polling suggest that the Democrats are going to get massacred today. That may well be.  One of the things that I pride myself, and this blog on, is that I don't make predictions.  No better way to look foolish that to make predictions about politics.  Rather, I try to rely on the fundamentals.  Given my training as a political scientist, there are certain fundamentals when it comes to congressional elections.  Namely:
  • Midterms are bad for the incumbent President's party.
  • Incumbent members of Congress are overwhelmingly re-elected
  • Turnout is lower in midterms and favors the out-party, which tends to be more energized
  • Minority party gains tend to be concentrated in open seat contests
Three of those four suggest Republican gains.  The wildcard is #2.  All indications--although largely anecdotal to this point--are that this is a bad, bad year for incumbents.  The comparison being most often made is to the 1994 Republican landslide.  In that election, 35 Democratic House incumbents lost.  If the Republicans repeat that performance--they need 39 House seats to gain the majority--they will have a big night, given that they are expected to win a slew of open seats in the south.

Beyond these, however, there is another "fundamental" that will probably play the greatest role tonight, although it won't get discussed nearly as much as it should: 10%.  The unemployment rate.  In all of the commentary on why Republicans will do well, few people--especially Republican flaks--will admit that in many ways their success will be due to factors completely beyond their control.  Sophisticated campaign operations, money, targeted GOTV, etc. are in the end ancillary.

I'll be blogging throughout the night as results come in.