Karl Rove's Spurious Numbers

Karl Rove, on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal:

History will favor Republicans in 2010. Since World War II, the out-party has gained an average of 23 seats in the U.S. House and two in the U.S. Senate in a new president's first midterm election. Other than FDR and George W. Bush, no president has gained seats in his first midterm election in both chambers.

Since 1966, the incumbent party has lost an average of 63 state senate and 262 state house seats, and six governorships, in a president's first midterm election. That 2010 is likely to see Republicans begin rebounding just before redistricting is one silver lining in an otherwise dismal year for the GOP.

These numbers from Rove are intentionally misleading, an effort to mix apples and oranges to make the case that the Democrats are doomed -- doomed -- in 2010, whether for the purpose of rallying the GOP base or depressing Democratic recruitment or fundraising efforts. Of course this isn't the first time that Rove has used fuzzy numbers. Many will recall Rove's feisty interview with NPR in October 2006 when he claimed to have "THE math" showing that Republicans would hold on to both the House and the Senate that fall -- but that doesn't mean I'm not going to shoot him down.

In order to arrive at these numbers, Rove not only throws in the first midterm election after a President is first elected to the White House, he also includes the first midterm election after a President assumes the White House -- a very different situation than what we see today. Why include these numbers? To cook the books so that the situation looks worse for the Democrats.

In what way will the 2010 midterms resemble the 1946 midterms, which occurred a little under two years after Harry Truman succeeded FDR, right in the middle of an economic downturn following World War II, and, more importantly, after 14 years of uninterrupted Democratic domain over the White House and the Congress? (The Democrats lost 54 seats in the House and 13 seats in the Senate, and control over the House and Senate, in 1946.) In what way does 2010 resemble the 1966 midterms, which were much more like the second midterm for the Kennedy/Johnson administration than a first midterm for a new Johnson administration? (The Democrats lost 3 seats in the Senate and 48 seats in the House that fall, though still had a 28-seat majority in the upper chamber and a 60-seat majority in the lower chamber.) The answer is that in neither case does the comparison apply.

Looking now at the House, specifically, when you take the eight midterm elections that actually look like 2010 -- a newly elected President, his party in Congress facing the electorate for the first time since he was elected office exactly two years earlier, not having previously served -- the party in power has lost an average of 16.125 seats, or about seven less than the number cited by Rove. If you remove the outliers at the top and bottom of the list (Bill Clinton's Democrats losing 54 seats in 1994 and George W. Bush's Republicans gaining eight seats in 2002), the average loss falls to 13.83 seats. In only two of the five instances in which the President's party controlled the House coming into the midterm did that party lose it (1954 and 1994); the other three times the party in power maintained its majority (1962, 1978 and 2002).

Taking a gander at the Senate, when you look at those eight midterm elections that are actually analogous to 2010, the party in power in the White House lost on average just 1.125 seats in the upper chamber of Congress. Just half of the time did the party lose any seats, with the party actually picking up seats in three elections (1962, 1970 and 2002) and not losing a single seat in one election (1982). Given the way the map looks in the chamber for 2010, I'm not banking on serious losses for the Democrats.

History isn't a predictor of the future, so this is a bit of an academic discussion. Nevertheless, if Rove is going to try to make historical comparisons to make the case that the Democrats are bound to lose, he'd better do a little better than this transparently specious claptrap (even if it is par for the course on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal).

Tags: House 2010, Karl Rove, Senate 2010 (all tags)



What Rove forgets

is that for the first time since 1962, Democrats will be in control of the White House during redistricting.  The Obama justice department could easily force Republican legislatures in Southern states to break up the black majority racial gerrymanders in districts like AL-07, GA-04, MS-02, SC-06, FL-03, FL-17, VA-03, LA-02 and FL-23, putting more black voters in nearby districts and making Republicans in those districts far more vulnerable to Democratic challenges.  This is basically the reverse of what the Bush 41 White House did in 1991.  Democrats controlled most legislatures, but the Justice Department forced the creation of black majority districts, hurting Democrats in the adjacent districts by depriving them of black votes.  Obama and his justice department can and should reverse this in 2011.  

by Kent 2008-11-13 09:45AM | 0 recs
Re: What Rove forgets

Great point. Hadn't thought about that before.

by Jonathan Singer 2008-11-13 09:57AM | 0 recs
I'm Glad You're Running This, Jonathan

You're putting Rove's statement in an actual context, and of course, we're seeing he's full of hot air.

What vulnerable Democratic U.S. Senate incumbents will there be in 2010?


We may lose some seats in the House, but then again with Van Hollen back in charge, we may gain one or two. But the House flipping back to the Repubs? Not a chance.

Who knows.

But Rove is definitely making that statement out of any sort of real historical context, especially considering that he and Bush gained seats in 2002.

by Zeitgeist9000 2008-11-13 09:53AM | 0 recs
Re: I'm Glad You're Running This, Jonathan

I think we have gained just about all we can in the house.  There are maybe 9-12 vulnerable Repubs left and probably twice that many vulnerable Dems (I am just spitballing here, so lets not assault me for not knowing the exact numbers.)

My guess is that considering the DCCC and everything else that if we play our cards right we will have a net loss of 5-9 House Seats.

However, if you look at the 2010 Senate seats there are a lot of potential wins for us. I think we close the deal on the Senate in 2010 and get the working super-majority that is likely to barely elude is this year.

by JDF 2008-11-13 10:16AM | 0 recs
Re: I'm Glad You're Running This, Jonathan
Maybe the CIA operatives that ROVE outed along with Valerie Plaime will take revenge on the jerk Rovian. If I were Rove I would be very careful when crossing the street.....
You think I'm kidding, look at that sopsuck Robert Novack who was in on the Plaime outing.....got bad cancer, ummm huh...
Maybe Rove thinks Democrats are going to "play nice" so he can torpedo us again....
by hddun2008 2008-11-13 12:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Karl Rove's Spurious Numbers

I think you're both right. Rove in saying the Dems will lose ground in 2010 and JOnathan in saying it won't be much. I think he's just trying to be a political hack making a living as a commentator myself.

by spirowasright 2008-11-13 09:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Karl Rove's Spurious Numbers

2 years is so far away.  8 months ago Ted Stevens Senate seat was among the safest out there.  Now not so much.

I think the 2010 midterms will likely be a referendum on the first 2 years of the Obama Administration.  If things improve noticeably and the walk matches the talk, the Dems will hold or gain slightly.  If things aren't getting much better, the Republicans will make some gains, but not enough to overtake either House.  If things regress noticeably, we may be looking at near 50-50 splits in either House.

The good news... things can't get much worse in terms of the national public mood; it would be hard not to go up from where we are at.  The bad news - Obama has the world on his shoulders, and while he benefitted from a lot of disgusted centrists and moderate Republicans, they won't be dependable to stay on the bandwagon if things don't get a lot better - they have very high expectations of him.

by Obamaphile 2008-11-13 10:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Karl Rove's Spurious Numbers

but just in case - BO and the DEMS have to move QUICKLY on the progressive agenda and not worry about "hurt" feelings or attacks....JUST GO...QUICK...healthcare, LGBT issues, stem cell, women's issues, out of Iraq, social security, global warming - NO TIME TO WASTE.... If we lose the majority in 2010 or if our seats decline, all this will be harder to push through. I say a swift fast kick right in the beginning - gives you 2 years to talk 'em down from the ledge...

by nikkid 2008-11-13 10:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Karl Rove's Spurious Numbers

No gay issues.  The country is clearly not on our side there and that would be a recipe for defeat as it was in 1994 with gays in the military.  

by Kent 2008-11-13 02:20PM | 0 recs

In the election of 1934, which will bear many similarities to 2010, the Dems picked up nine seats in the Senate and nine in the House.  Eight Republican incumbents were taken out in the Senate and the Republicans lost fourteen seats in the House.

by kaleidescope 2008-11-13 10:57AM | 0 recs


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