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.

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