Eight weeks out and you don’t have to be a political professional to feel what’s in the air: The Republicans have a big win coming.
The question in the House races is: Will they get to 218? Will Republicans pick up the 39 seats they need to win control of the 435-member chamber?
Another way of asking: Is this 1994 again?
That year the Republicans swept the House races, picking up 52 seats and getting, for the first time in 40 years, a Republican majority and a Republican speaker, Newt Gingrich. Even then-Speaker Tom Foley (D., Wash.), lost his seat that year. (Speaker Nancy Pelosi is famously in no danger—she won her seat with 72 % of the vote in 2008—but it probably means something that she appears to have gone missing from the national scene. CBS, in March, had her at 11% approval among registered voters.)
A Gallup survey of registered voters this week had Republicans beating Democrats in a generic ballot by 10 points, 51% to 41%. In the 68-year history of that poll, the GOP had never led by more than five points. RealClearPolitics has Republicans ahead in 206 races and Democrats ahead in 194, with 35 too close to call. The Cook Political Report puts 68 Democratic House seats “at substantial risk,” while judging less than a dozen GOP seats to be in real trouble. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs made news a few weeks ago by conceding the obvious: that the Republicans could take the House. Top Democrats have told the same to Politico.
The news is so good it’s prompting mutterings on the right: The liberal media are trumpeting the inevitable GOP triumph to make the base complacent and the party peak early. Anything but a Democratic debacle will be spun as proof that Obama’s support, while soft, endures. “The Republicans had a typical off-year chance to win back power and failed. The reason? Voters just don’t trust them.”
The Democrats are not without resources. The first is money, and the second is troops. The Wall Street Journal’s Neil King Jr. notes that in many of the closest races this year the Democrats have more cash on hand, and in 20 of those races “the Democrat has at least a four-to-one cash advantage over the Republican candidate.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says it has nearly $17 million more to spend on key House races than its GOP counterpart. Then there are the unions: “The AFL-CIO says it will spend more than $40 million to back candidates and mobilize residents of union-member households to vote in November, overwhelmingly in support of Democrats.”
What’s going to happen? I put the question to one of the architects of the 1994 Republican win, the conservative activist Grover Norquist, a contributor to the Contract with America, member of the Gingrich kitchen cabinet, and founder, 25 years ago, of Americans for Tax Reform. In conversations over those years, I’ve found him to be among the most insightful political observers in Washington.