Last night Americans cast a vote for divided government. As of this writing Republicans gained an additional 60 seats to take control of the House of Representatives while gaining six seats in the Senate, fewer than the ten seats that would have been needed to take control of that house of the Congress. Seats remain undecided in both houses of the Congress and, while it is possible that the number of newly minted Republican seats in the House and Senate might grow, the number of freshman Republican House seats may go over 65 and the number of freshman Senate seats could conceivably be as high as eight. In my view the latter is extremely unlikely.
Clearly, I underestimated the number of Republican gains in the House while overestimating very slightly the number of Republican gains in the Senate.
Democratic partisans will undoubtedly try to minimize the significance of this election. That’s claptrap. This is an extremely significant election. The Republican freshman class in the House is the largest in more than 60 years. If it rises over 65 it will be the largest in 80 years. Not only will that have reversed the gains in the House that Democrats achieved in 2006 (many of the Democratic House losses this year were those same new Congressmen), it has bettered the Republican gains of 1994 and, if when the final tally is taken there are more than 65 new Republican seats, it will have reversed the gains of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Republicans should not overestimate their victory. As North Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint warns in this morning’s Wall Street Journal:
Tea party Republicans were elected to go to Washington and save the country—not be co-opted by the club. So put on your boxing gloves. The fight begins today.
Democrats should not underestimate their loss and their peril. As noted above if the final tally shows a gain of more than 65 seats by the Republicans, the clock will have been turned back to 1930. If the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, regardless of other economic growth President Obama will be a one-term president and will become the Democrats’ equivalent of Herbert Hoover.
To my eye there were two gains of immediate and significant importance and a larger development that may ultimately assume more significance than the gains in the House and Senate.
The two races I have in mind are the victories of Marco Rubio in Florida and Mark Kirk in Illinois. In the case of Rubio, the Republican Party now has a young, attractive, extremely conservative Hispanic spokesman. Clearly a rising star. In the case of Kirk, he was not only elected to become Illinois’s junior senator, a role formerly filled by the sitting president, he was elected to serve that president’s remaining term. He should be seated immediately and his Republican vote will alter Senate dynamics in the lame duck session. His election is a personal blow to President Obama who pulled out all stops to get his friend Alexi Giannoulias elected to little avail.
The larger development is the election of Republicans at the state and local level, in some cases to seats that have not been held by Republicans in living memory. This will undoubtedly influence the redistricting efforts soon to take place. As the late Mayor Daley once put it, one map drawer is worth 1,000 precinct workers.