Since everyone—including panicky GOP congressmen—seems to be talking about a “probable” Democratic takeover of the House, we thought it would be appropriate to lay out the precise scenario in which this could happen. What follows is an account of the GOP’s doomsday scenario, which would result in a Democratic majority with 218 to 220 seats (a one to five-seat margin).
As the night of November 7 begins, Republicans lose two seats in Connecticut (Rob Simmons and Chris Shays are defeated), two seats in Pennsylvania (Jim Gerlach and Mike Fitzpatrick), and two in southern Indiana (Mike Sodrel and John Hostettler). That makes six.
Former Rep. Ken Lucas (D) makes a return to Congress by beating Rep. Geoff Davis (R) in Kentucky, where they also upset Ron Lewis. Democrats unseat Rep. Thelma Drake (R) in Virginia Beach, then beat Charlie Taylor and Robin Hayes in North Carolina. They also knock off Clay Shaw in a very expensive Florida race. That brings the total to twelve.
Then Democrats take the open seat in northeast Iowa, (Jim Nussle is running for governor), and defeat Heather Wilson in New Mexico. They beat Tom DeLay in Houston and pick up Mark Kennedy’s seat in Minnesota, get Jim Kolbe’s seat in Arizona, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s aide, Tess Hafen (D), surprises everyone by beating Rep. Jon Porter (R) in Nevada. A Democrat wins the seat being vacated by Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.), while Rep. Bob Ney watches his district’s election results from prison as some obscure Democrat gets his seat by default.
This scenario represents a gross Democratic gain of 20 seats. If all of these dominoes fall, and Republicans can’t manage to pick up six Democratic seats, then Democrats will have netted 15-plus seats and a majority in the U.S. House for the first time since 1994. This is a possible, but unlikely scenario. We remain skeptical. We also discount Democrats’ talk of taking over seats they almost definitely won’t win, such as Mark Green’s seat in Wisconsin, Steve Chabot’s in Ohio, and Anne Northup’s in Kentucky.
A two to five seat Democratic majority would have the committee subpoena power to make Bush’s life miserable, but it would surely lack the strength to govern in any meaningful way.
Bear in mind that if the Supreme Court orders another round of redistricting in Texas later this year, it could change everything.
The late retirement announcement by Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the brawny, acerbic Ways and Means chairman, represents the loss of one of the greatest economic minds in the House. It is also a departure of a moderate who could easily be replaced by a conservative. This district voted more or less like the state of Utah, giving President Bush 68 percent in 2004.
The likely Republican contenders for the seat are California Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy—another moderate and a Thomas ally—and State Sen. Roy Ashburn, a Thomas nemesis who blames the congressman for his near-loss in 2004 of the adjacent seat left by retiring Rep. Cal Dooley (D). Ashburn ran a terrific campaign, but Thomas hurt him, he alleges, by urging local Republican leaders to back his rival, Jim Costa (D).
Thomas’s retirement, coming as it does amidst a panic by GOP congressmen that they could lose the House this fall, most likely comes down to his committee-chairmanship situation. Term-limited out of his coveted chairmanship, Thomas had sought to become Budget chairman as a reward for his late support of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) for Majority Leader this year. The only problem is that Thomas has never served on the Budget Committee, and it is without precedent to give a chair to someone who has never served on the committee.
That the state Democratic Party is suing in federal court to strike down the state’s open primary law is a sign that Rep. Bennie Thompson (D) is very afraid of the challenge posed to him by Chuck Espy (D). Like Cynthia McKinney (Ga.) and Earl Hilliard (Ala.) in 2002, the race-baiting, left-wing Thompson could be bounced from office, with Republican votes. This primary takes place June 6.