David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report spoke at VMA’s 76th Annual Meeting where he entertained and informed members, spouses and guests. Wasserman not only gave a preview of this year’s upcoming midterm elections, but also a good synopsis of the state of politics in general.
Stop if you’ve already heard this question: “Why are politics today so polarized?” Gerrymandering has been around for as long as Americans have held open elections. But now, according to Wasserman, it’s getting ridiculous. When politicians choose their own voters, the party that controls a congressional or legislative seat is usually a foregone conclusion. For example: In 2012, Democratic candidates for the House in Pennsylvania won 83,468 more votes than their Republican counterparts. The end result was Democrats won only five of those 18 seats. All that mattered to those 18 winning candidates was appealing to primary voters to win their party’s nomination, and less than 15% of voters participate in those elections.
Culture is now as big a divider between the two parties as the actual issues, Wasserman says. Democrats are becoming more and more urban, Republicans more and more rural. It used to be that Dems went to Starbucks and GOPers to Wal-Mart, but those two businesses are everywhere nowadays. Today the best indicator of how you vote is your proximity to either a Whole Foods or a Cracker Barrel—Wasserman actually has the statistics to prove it! In 2012, Obama won 77% of Whole Foods counties while Romney won 71% of Cracker Barrel counties. This cultural barometer has existed for the past several elections, but the gap is getting wider and wider.
So what are the stakes this November? We know, thanks to our old friend gerrymandering, that the GOP is pretty much a lock to hold onto the House of Representatives. In 2012, Democrats actually won more total votes in House races, but the GOP easily held on to their majority. Midterm elections always have lower participation, in large part due to young voters who are unwilling to turn out. GOP voters have been trending older, Dems younger. Republicans currently have a 234-201 majority in the House and the Cook Political Report predicts them adding between two to 12 seats to that total.
There are several competitive governors’ races across the U.S. this year and incumbents from both parties are in danger. Right now 29 of 50 governors are Republicans. The Cook Political Report predicts a Dem pickup of one or two seats in 2014.
The U.S. Senate, on the other hand, is a complete tossup. Here’s the situation, according to David Wasserman: Republicans hold 45 seats in the chamber so they would need a net gain of six this November for a majority. There are seven competitive Senate races this year just in states Romney won in 2012. Three Dem retirements are expected to flip the states of West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota. That means the GOP needs to flip at least three of the other four in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.
Democrats also have to defend a few seats that went Obama’s way in 2012, albeit narrowly, in Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire. Republican-held seats that could flip are Georgia and Kentucky, with Kansas being the wildcard. There, an Independent, instead of a Democrat, is challenging the incumbent. With a win, he could caucus with Dems in the Senate, but who knows?
If the Democrats do lose the Senate this year the silver lining for them is that the Republican majority could be short lived. The map for Democrats in 2016 is much more favorable, and they could win back control a mere two years later.
Wasserman explained just why Senate control is so important with this great example: Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices are currently over the age of 75, and it’s the Senate’s job to confirm new members to the courts. Incentive enough for you?