Tuesday, February 14, 2006

It Won’t be a Bi-partisan Wave

By Nathan L. Gonzales

With a potential political wave developing, Republicans should face the reality that it likely will only break one way – toward the Democrats.

GOP leaders in Washington are trying to point out the “hypocrisy” of the Democratic attacks on ethics and corruption, but recent history shows that if a wave develops, it will disproportionately hurt one party over the other.

Not only are Republicans likely to lose seats this November, but their chances of defeating a Democratic incumbent or taking over a Democratic open seat are minimal. Sure, the GOP has opportunities against newly-appointed Sen. Bob Menendez (D) in New Jersey and a handful of other Democratic incumbents, as well as in open seats in Minnesota and Maryland, but in “wave” elections, competitive seats tend to break heavily toward one party.

Back in 1980, a whopping twelve seats changed hands in the Senate, with Democrats losing all of them. Nine incumbents went down to defeat, including heavyweights like Birch Bayh (IN), Frank Church (ID), and George McGovern (SD). Republicans also won Democratic open seats in Alabama, Alaska, and Florida.

Six years later, ten Senate seats changed hands, nine of which were Republican losses. In that 1986 election, seven GOP incumbents lost, along with 2 open seats. Kit Bond’s win in an open-seat race in Missouri was the lone bright spot for Republicans that night.

And in 1994, eight Senate seats switched parties, with all eight being Republican takeovers. Only two Democratic incumbents were defeated (Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania and James Sasser of Tennessee) but six open seat losses were the Democrats undoing. (Along with the net loss of 52 seats in the House).

This cycle, four Republican incumbents are in serious trouble: Rick Santorum (PA), Mike DeWine (OH), Conrad Burns (MT), and Lincoln Chafee (RI) -- although his seat’s vulnerability hinges on his inability to survive the GOP primary. In addition, incumbent Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri is only running even with his Democratic opponent.

Even if all five of those Republicans lose, Democrats would still be one seat short of a majority. Then it comes down Democrats either defeating Sen. Jon Kyl in Arizona or Cong. Harold Ford (D) winning the open seat vacated by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in Tennessee. Both races are very uphill for the Democrats right now.

But the bottom line is that Republicans should not depend on off-setting losses in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Montana with wins elsewhere. Over the last 25 years, when the wave hits, only one party drowns.

This piece first appeared on Town Hall on February 9, 2006.