Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The House may be lost

Some additional insights here from worth knowing.

Long-time political observer Charlie Cook is predicting the Republicans are likely to win 198 seats in the House, with another 47 being tossups. If the Republicans win even half of these, that gives them the majority. But in wave elections most of the tossups go the same way, so the odds of the Republicans winning 30 or more of the tossups are reasonably good. Cook's best guess is that they will pick up something in the range of 48 to 60 seats. This would put this election on a par with 1994, when they picked up 52 seats in the House.

In the Senate, he is predicting a Republican gain of about 8 or 9 seats. If that happens, all eyes will be on Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to see if they jump ship. However, both of them are keenly aware of what happened to Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) when he did just that: he was defeated in a primary. Both of these could expect nasty primary fights if they became Republicans, especially if it were to save their own skins rather than out of some deep-seated convictions that have been rather absent until now. Nelson has to worry about the fact that Nebraska is full of Republican politicians who would primary him with the slogan "vote for a real Republican." If he decided to switch, his real battle would be the primary--where only Republicans can vote--rather than the general election, where Democrats can, too. Lieberman is so unpopular and unpredictable that anything is possible with him, but he has nothing in common with Jim DeMint and even less with Rand Paul and Sharron Angle, so he is likely to continue to caucus with the Democrats.

If the Republicans capture the House, as Cook, Nate Silver, and other close observers predict, the new Speaker of the House is virtually certain to be Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) (which he prefers to pronounce "Bayner" rather than "Boner" or "Booner"). Boehner has an everpresent deep tan and smokes two or three packs of cigarettes a day. The Washington Post has a long profile of him today.

Boehner has a strange history within the caucus. He was one of the authors of the Republicans' "Contract with America" that propelled them to victory in 1994. But in 1998, he was booted out of his leadership position, only to be elected majority leader in 2006. He is more of a back-room wheeler-dealer type person than an "ideas" man, as former Speaker Newt Gingrich fancied himself. Still, if the Republicans have a small majority starting in January, he is going to need all his people skills to rein in the fractious tea partiers intent on changing Washington the moment they arrive. It is likely that the tea partiers will form their own coalition. If they get more members than the Republicans' majority, they get a de facto veto on everything he does, much as the Blue Dogs have with the Democrats. However, since the brunt of the voters' wrath is going to fall on the Blue Dogs next Tuesday, the Democratic caucus is going to move to the left, and with the tea party members of his own caucus pulling him to the right ... he is not likely to accomplish much.

If Boehner moves up, the other Republican leaders will move up. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the only Jewish Republican in Congress, is likely to become majority leader and Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) would then become whip. Boehner is not very close to either of these -- just as current Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn't especially care for her #2, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Boehner tends to hang with some of the rank-and-file Republicans, especially Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA). Boehner lives in a basement apartment he rents from one of his many lobbyist friends. His wife, Deborah, lives in Ohio.

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