For all my flaws as a historian, I'd be the first to tell you that I'm still a heck of a lot better at trying to sort out the past than trying to predict the future. However, like most of you, I'm all caught up in next week's bid-term congressional elections and what the heck? I can't be much worse at political prognostication than I've been picking football games this fall. Like choosing winners and losers on the gridiron, election-guessing involves some attention to the polls. My favorite place to go for aggregated poll data is RealClearPolitics.com. Unlike Fox and NPR, these folks really try to retain a modicum of objectivity, and anybody inclined to suspect a liberal bias need only take a look at the butt-whipping they project for the Dems on November 2. With 218 seats constituting a majority in the House, the Democrats currently hold 255 to the GOP's 178. The boys and girls at Real Clear (here's hoping they're not into some "Everclear") foresee the Repubs with a veritable lock on 223 seats already and in the hunt for at least 36 more. Without splitting too many hairs, it seems likely that the GOP could wind up just south of where the slumping Democrats have been perched the last two years. Speaking of "South," that's where 30 to 40% of the seats that will likely change hands - or posteriors - next week are situated. White southern Democrats have been on the "endangered species or perhaps "dead and just don't know it yet" list for quite a while now. Of the 59 Democrats representing the old Confederacy in the House, 43 of them are white. Based on a quick sweep of congressional Dems in decidedly dire straits this year, I'd say that number might be down in the mid-to low 30s after November 2. White Democrats representing a majority white constituency who survived this year's potential debacle in the House are not just skilled politicians. They are flat-out magicians or perhaps better yet, charlatans.
Meanwhile, the outcome in the Senate is a bit harder to call. With the Democrats currently up 59 to 41, Real Clear sees eight tossup races but is inclined to think that the GOP will win them all. Reports elsewhere suggest that the embattled Democrats in a few of these contests seem to be rallying, however. On the basis of nothing more than a hunch and the fact that it's just plain harder to dislodge an incumbent Senator, where the folks in the know see the Dems emerging from the fray with a whisker-thin 51-49 advantage, I'm thinking it might be more like a still fairly anorexic 53-47.
Over the last two years, the Dems have found Republican bipartisanship about as scarce as Brittany's undies. If they manage to cling to the Senate, things won't change much there. If the Republicans do in fact claim a modest majority in the House, they may well fare a little better, because in order to survive, many across the aisle have already found it necessary to become DINOS--"Democrats In Name Only."
In re underdrawers, it sure seemed as if Georgia Republican gubernatorial nominee Nathan Deal got caught with his around his ankles several times in recent months, at least according to the Office of Congressional Ethics (How's that for an oxymoron?), which raised questions about the propriety of Deal's alleged efforts to pressure Georgia officials to maintain operating policies favorable to his salvage company's operation. Deal effectively ended the probe when he resigned from Congress, but the ethics investigators already had enough evidence to issue a report saying he had used his office improperly for personal gain and then exceeded congressional limits on outside income to boot. Reportedly this information attracted the attention of some folks at the Justice Department, so, apparently, there's still a chance that if Deal is elected, the sovereign voters of Georgia may see him indicted before they see him inaugurated.
There's also that matter of an approximately $2.3 million loan that he allegedly secured and renewed on suspiciously favorable terms. Deal has tried to bomfog on this issue by saying that, like any loving father, he sought the loan in order to bolster a business operated by his daughter and son-in-law. The belly of said business is now pointing heavenward, leaving Daddy on the hook and apparently teetering on the precipice of bankruptcy. On the face of it, all of this should add up to an easy time of it for Deal's Democratic opponent, former Gov. Roy Barnes. However, most recent polls have Barnes mired in the low to mid 40s where he's been since the campaign began while Deal is hovering near the 50% mark. The inelasticity of Barnes's numbers reflects the reality that, as a former governor and legislature or before that, he has a pretty well-defined set of friends and enemies and is having trouble making more of the former. Barnes is the first to admit that he made some serious errors during his first go at the governorship, but the prospect that half of Georgia's voters might be mashing the button for a guy totin' as much suspicious baggage as Deal is about as startling as poll numbers showing 40% support for that Wiccan Wacko, Christine O'Donnell in the Delaware Senate race.( My perceptive friend Jim points out that these figures may well understate Ms. O'D's strength because wiccans, warlocks, vampires, etc. are typically in the sack during daylight hours when pollsters come calling.) I'm inclined to think that part of this is purely and simply good old-fashioned Obama hate--Deal is a "birther" and both are ardent Obamaphobes and faithful adherents to the gospel according to Palin, i.e., so long as you are fervent enough, what you profess to believe is far more important that what you actually know.
In the long run, the really big question is not what happens next Tuesday but what happens thereafter. Although Obama is vulnerable primarily because of the stubbornly high unemployment rate, the Republicans have hitched their wagon to the frenetic agitators of the Tea Bagger movement, none of whom, so far as I can tell has ever offered any opinion or even suggestion as to how our economy might be brought around. They are more concerned about proving once and for all that our president is an alien infidel, or preventing stem cell research, or guaranteeing our rights to take our Glocks and Berettas into restaurants, pre-schools, airports, or anywhere else we damn well please. This outfit won't constitute anything like a majority of any new Republican majority in Congress, but you can be assured they will think that majority is totally beholden to them, and hence their agenda should prevail over trivial matters such as joblessness, homelessness, or health care. I wouldn't be surprised if dealing with these folks for a few months makes the Republican leadership nostalgic for Ms. Pelosi.
Frankly, this scenario reminds me a good bit of 1994, when Newtsie-Tootsie and all the young Republicans with their hair on fire blew in and took control of Congress for the first time since 1952, promising "cross their hearts" to implement every jot and tittle of their vaunted "Contract with America." Remember term limits and mandatory budget balancing? Anybody recollect how that went, and while you're at it, could you refresh my memory as to who was elected president in 1996? It's great fun and not terribly difficult to blame the government when things are going badly. Of course that strategy has its limitations if you actually become part of government yourself and don't have a clue about how to make things better for people who don't give a damn about your narrow little agenda. I'll grant you that a lot can happen in the next 24 months, but let me point out that national polls still put B. O.'s approval rating at 46% compared to 31% for the Republican congressional antagonists who seem poised to clean his party's clock in a few days. Nancy Pelosi may well lose her job to John Boehner on Tuesday( provided of course, his tanning bed doesn't short out and turn him into a strip of beef jerky before then), but that doesn't mean that Barack Obama is destined to lose his two years from now.