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Three R’s Will Drive this Election Cycle

Russ Stewart 26 April 2012 No Comment

The putative success of President Barack Obama’s (D) second term – or Mitt Romney’s (R) first term – is predicated on an arcane and obscure measurement concocted by Washington political insiders called the “recovery and retention rate” – “R&RR.”

It’s sort of like NFL statistics focusing on takeaways, fumble recoveries, points allowed and points scored. If, in 2012, Republicans retain their U.S. House majority, and recover the Senate, then Obamacare will be repealed. Conversely, if Democrats retain the Senate and recover the House, then big government gets bigger.

The R&RR works like this: In any two-year election cycle, one party is more or less dominant. They each assault enemy territory, and capture an indeterminate number of U.S. House and Senate seats. Then, two years (or sometimes four years) later in House races, or six years later in Senate races, R&RR emerges: The defeated party must recover takeaways, the winning party must retain turnovers, and a R&RR is calculated. If it’s a plus on either side of 50/50 (recovery/retention), there’s a winner.

Certain factors govern each cycle’s outcome: (1) Open seats, where the incumbent retires, putting in play a previously “safe” sinecure. (2) Scandals affecting the incumbent, creating a turnover opportunity. (3) “Flawed” nominees as challengers, or in open seats, with a candidate too extreme or unrepresentative of the district/state to win. (4) “Wave” elections, where voter sentiment against the White House occupant redounds to the opposition party’s benefit, producing sizeable to massive turnovers. And (5) remap excisions, occurring every decade, where the dominant party’s legislature obliterates the other party’s incumbents.

In 1960, a half-century ago, when John Kennedy assumed the presidency, Democrats had majorities of 65-35 in the Senate and 264-173 in the House. In 2008, when Obama went to the White House, Democrats had, respectively, 59-41 and 257-178 majorities. 2008 was back to 1960. Now, after the 2010 Republican blowout, it’s 53D-47R and 196D-239R. In the interim, despite eight “wave” elections, the ebb and flow of national politics has shown minimal change Here’s a synopsis:

In 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson (D) cruised to a landslide over Barry Goldwater (R), Democrats gained 37 House seats, upping their majority to 295D-140R. In 1966, in a repudiation of LBJ’s liberalism and Vietnam policies, Republicans gained 47 seats, defeating 22 of 37 freshmen Democrats. That’s a R&RR of 59.5 percent recovery/40.5 percent retention. The Democrats’ majority was down to 248-187 – less than 1960’s.

In 1974, when anti-Watergate and anti-Nixon sentiment crested, Republicans lost five Senate seats and 48 House seats, for a 291-144 Democratic majority – back to 1964 levels. In the 1976 and 1978 cycles, Republicans netted 14 seats, and recovered a minuscule 10 of those 48 1974 losses; in 1980, factoring in retirements and races for state office, 28 of those 1974 winners were still in office, with a 277D-158R majority. That’s a R&RR of 41.7/58.3 recovery/retention.

In 1980, with Jimmy Carter having botched the economy and foreign policy, Ronald Reagan’s landslide swept the Republicans into Senate control (53-46-1) for the first time since 1954, a gain of 12 seats. In the House, Republicans gained 34 seats (243D-192R), restoring them exactly to their 1972-73 minority of 192-243. Of the 48 Democrats from the Class of 1974, 19 were defeated in 1980, and only 26 remained in Congress. But Reaganomics hadn’t succeeded by 1982 (it would by 1984), and Republicans lost 26 House seats, with 20 of the 34 1980 victors ousted (269D-166R), but gained one Senate seat (54-46). That’s an ‘82 R&RR of 41/59.

In 1986, when Reagan fatigue was building, 7 of the 12 Republican senate seats won in 1980 ere recovered by the Democrats – a stunning R&RR of 58 percent. The Senate was 55D-45R, and the House 258D-177R – back to 1970’s breakout.

In 1994, for the first election since 1952, Republicans, in an anti-Clinton “wave,” won a congressional majority: 52R-48D in the Senate, and 230R-205D in the House, with a 9-seat gain in the Senate and a 54-seat gain in the House. Relative to the “Class of ’94,” Democrats recovered 9 House seats in 1996 (16.6 percent).

But, in 2000, during the Bush-Gore presidential election, Democrats gained five U.S. Senate seats. After the 2000 election, it was 50R-50D and 222R-213D — a majority of 4 seats, identical to the 1953-54 Congress (48R-48D and 221R-214D).

In 2006, with glow of the Iraq “victory” fading, and the economy sputtering, an anti-Bush “wave” developed. Going into the election 232R-202D and 55R-45D, Democrats flipped 31 House seats (plus three more in special 2008 elections), and gained 6 Senate seats, giving them 51D-49R and 236D-199R majorities, respectively. Of the 33 senators elected in 2006, the breakout is 24D-9R, and Democrats who ousted Republicans in 2006 in Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Michigan, and a retiree in Virginia — face difficult re-election contests in 2012.

In 2008, another anti-Bush wave, with the banking industry meltdown and Obama atop the Democratic ticket, spurring a huge turnout by those not inclined to support Republicans. In House races, Democrats captured another 25 Republican-held seats, and Republicans five Democratic seats (including four recoveries); and gained 6 Senate seats, giving Democrats 59-41 and 257-178 majorities – enough to pass Obama’s 2009-2010 agenda. Democratic senate takeaway winners in New Hampshire, Oregon, Alaska, Minnesota, North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia and New Mexico will face tough re-election fights in 2014, especially if Obama is then president, as will senators in Louisiana and South Dakota.

In 2010, buoyed by an anti-Obama wave, Republicans flipped 65 Democratic-held House seats, amassing an astounding R&RR of 69 percent, recovering 40 of the 58 Democratic takeaways of 2006 and 2008 (including four 2008 recoveries of 2006 losses) – bringing them to 47R-53D and 239R-196D. That brought Republicans back close to their 1994 breakout of 52R-48D and 230R-205D.

In fact, in 2012, it would not be surprising if the Republicans replicate their 1994 showing, and end up with 52-48 Senate and 230-205 House majorities. Republicans will recover at least three of their 2006 lost Senate seats.

Six months out from the 2012 election, Democrats are struggling to win a net of 24 House seats, and must defend 24 of 33 Senate seats. But, according to Washington sources, the road to a Democratic House majority runs through Illinois. The Illinois delegation, 11R-8D after 2010, with a one-seat loss due to population adjustments, was designed by Springfield Democratic remappers to be 12D-6R – a 5-seat Republican loss.

Historically, Illinois has always been a closely-balanced congressional delegation, with Chicago Democrats offset by suburban and Downstate Republicans.. In 1960, it was 14D-11R; in 1962, 12D-12R; in 1964, 13D-11R; in 1966, 12R-12D; in 1974, 12D-12R. But by 1980, it was 10D-14R. Attrition during the 1980s, including Dick Durbin’s 1982 win of a Springfield-area seat, brought it to 12D-8R by 1994. In 2002, with another seat lost, Republicans rebounded to 9D-10R.

But Democrat Melissa Bean won complacent Phil Crane’s (R) McHenry County 8th District seat in 2004; Democrat Bill Foster won ex-Speaker Denny Hastert’s vacant Downstate/exurban 14th District seat in a 2008 special election; and Democrat Debbie Halvorson won Jerry Weller’s (R) open Will County seat in 2008. That made it 12D-7R.
2010 was a Republican blowout: Joe Walsh (R) beat Bean by 290 votes. Randy Hultgren (R) beat Foster by 13,724 votes. Adam Kinzinger (R) beat Halvorson by 33,089 votes. And, in the Rock Island-western Illinois 17th District, pizza owner Bobby Schilling (R) beat incumbent Phil Hare (D) by 19,129 votes. The delegation was now 11R-8D. Bob Dold (R) kept Mark Kirk’s seat by 4,651 votes. Here’s the 2012 outlook:

10th District (North Shore and east Lake County): The last Democrat to win the district was Abner Mikva in 1978. Republicans won narrowly in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Remappers removed much of Palatine Township, erasing Dold’s 2010 margin. He faces Brad Schneider (D), an unimpressive candidate. Outlook: Democrat favored.

8th District (Schaumburg area, northeast DuPage County): Remappers packed the district with Hispanics (20 percent), only a quarter of the district lies in Walsh’s old district, Obama got 62 percent in 2008, and Tammy Duckworth (D) is deemed a superstar candidate. But Tea Party champion Walsh is an indefatigueable retail campaigner.

Outlook: Toss-up.

11th District (south suburban/Joliet): Judy Biggert’s (R) Hinsdale home was stuck onto a Northwest Side Chicago district, and all the Hispanic areas of Foster’s old 14th District were added. But Biggert has been in Congress since 1998, is a moderate on social issues, and the new district contains half of her old – versus a quarter of Foster’s former district. Foster is trying a comeback. Outlook: Toss-up.

17th District (western Illinois): Remappers stuck in every Democratic bastion available – Rockford, Decatur, Peoria, Rock Island, Quincy – in an effort to oust Schilling. Nominee Cheri Bustos (D), an East Moline alderman, is well-funded but not well-known. Outlook: Likely Democrat.

12th District (East Saint Louis and adjacent rural counties): Largely unchanged, Obama won the district with 56 percent in 2008, and incumbent Jerry Costello (D) is retiring. Obama won’t win it in 2012. It’s local school superintendent Brad Harriman (D) versus 2010 losing lieutenant governor candidate Jason Plummer (R), who can self-fund. Outlook: Toss-up.

My prediction: It will be 10D-8R after November.

Russ Stewart is a political analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer. E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his werbsite at www.russstewart.com.

image Triple R Ranch from Spin and Marty

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