Election Analyst Questions Whether Republicans Can Take House

BY ALEXANDRA DEFELICE

Republicans may not be able to secure a majority in the House this November despite the potential for a tidal wave election, political analyst Charlie Cook told AICPA Council members Monday at a meeting in San Diego. Cook addressed the Council, providing his view of the political environment in light of the profession's advocacy work.

“I wonder whether despite the gigantic Republican wave… they have the mechanics to ride the wave skillfully and maximize their number,” he said, adding they may only pick up 20 to 30 seats, not the 40 they need for a majority. Moreover, Democratic losses in mid-term elections would not necessarily indicate a loss for President Barack Obama in 2012, Cook said.

Cook, a nationally known election analyst who appears frequently on cable news networks and National Public Radio, said his skepticism about Republican victories this fall stems from last week’s special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th District, where Democrat Mark Critz upset Republican Tim Burns 53% to 45% in a district where Obama’s approval rating is about 38%. That rating is roughly 10 percentage points lower than Obama’s national average of 48%, according to a recent Gallup Poll.

“Last week, Republicans got out-hustled, out-planned and out-organized. Democrats simply did a better job than they did,” Cook said. “If there’s one race on their plate right in front of them and Republicans don’t get that one right, how will they do it with 60 or 70 [races] when trying to get 40 or 50 seats to control the House in November? A few weeks ago, I was sure they’d get the majority back. Now I’m not sure.”

A Republican Senate is in the future as nearly double the number of Democratic seats than Republican are up in 2012 and 2014, Cook said, but 2010 likely won’t be the year that happens, he added. Republicans won majority control of the House in 1994 after 40 years of Democratic Party rule. Democrats regained control in 2006.

Obama’s Fate in 2012

This year will be a bad one for Democrats, it’s just a question of how bad, Cook said. But people should not base Obama’s future on what happens in 2010, he cautioned.

“Mid-term elections are terrible predictors of what will happen at the next presidential election,” he said, citing ugly mid-term losses by both Republican Ronald Reagan’s and Democrat Bill Clinton’s parties followed by comfortable re-election victories by both men.

In the past 100 years, only one elected president who took over from the other party lost re-election. That was Jimmy Carter, who in 1980 lost to Reagan, who Cook called “bigger than the average bear.”

“When I look at the field of 2012 potential election candidates, I don’t see Ronald Reagan,” Cook said.

That being said, mid-term elections can be a very sobering experience, especially for one of the most inexperienced presidents the nation has had in a long time, Cook said.

“My hope as a nonpartisan political analyst is that the president learns something and will be better after this,” Cook said.

The driving factors affecting Obama’s re-election will be the state of the economy in 2012 and what’s going on in Afghanistan, among other factors happening then, not now.

Although the recession started under another regime, after two years as president, voters are looking to Obama for results.

“When you have a tough economic downturn, voters want all hands on deck with the focus in Washington on the economy and jobs,” Cook said. “You can’t look at the president and Congress and say they focused on the economy like a laser beam last year. Every day they focused on health care, they weren’t focused on the economy and jobs.”

There’s no easy time for significant health care reform, Cook said, acknowledging his agreement with the president, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a bad time to try to do it, he said.

“When you have the worst economy since the Great Depression, unemployment of 8 and 9% and American people are curled up in the fetal position in fear, they may not be as open and receptive to doing this,” he said. “Voters are showing a lot less patience and tolerance than they used to. When they want change, they want it immediately, and if it’s not what they had in mind, you’re gone.”

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