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Tuesday | November 12, 2002
Cook and Rothenberg: No GOP tidal wave

Well, the "expert" analysts are chiming in, and the verdict: there was no Republican wave last Tuesday.

In short, very, very few upsets took place on Election Day. Most of the closest races simply broke Republican at the end, with Republicans winning a number of close races by very small margins in seven out of our final 10 toss-up Senate races. Democrats won two, and Louisiana is still outstanding, pending the Dec. 7 runoff. But this is not much different from 2000, when Democrats won eight of the 10 toss-up Senate races, netting four seats -- or 1998, when Democrats won six out of nine. No wave happened in 2002, only a light breeze that was sufficient to tip a number of the closest races to Republicans.
This is a great column, as it deflates the notion that the GOP victories represented some sort of massive shift amongst the electorate and endorsement of the GOP agenda. Once again, I'll say that the GOP won fair and square, but it doesn't mean the Dems are down and out. We just have to fight harder next time.

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OFF TO THE RACES
Election 2002: No Tidal Wave

By Charlie Cook
Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2002

Perhaps the most pertinent question in American politics today is: What
did last Tuesday's midterm elections really mean? In my judgment, the
2002 midterm election is one of the most over-interpreted, or perhaps
even misinterpreted, elections I have ever seen. I should add that my
strong competitor and close friend Stu Rothenberg, editor and publisher
of the Rothenberg Political Report, feels very much the same.

We both have seen "wave" elections. In the 1974 Watergate midterm
election, when Democrats gained 49 House and four Senate seats, that was
a wave. In 1980, when former California Gov. Ronald Reagan led
Republicans to a sweep, netting 12 Senate seats, control of the Senate
for the first time since 1955 and 34 House seats, that was a wave. In
1982, when a recession hit and unemployment reached 10 percent just
weeks before the midterm election, Democrats won 26 House seats,
recaptured more than two-thirds of their losses in the previous election
and came within 34,000 votes of capturing five Senate seats and retaking
control of the Senate -- that was a smaller wave. In 1994, when
Republicans took 52 House seats and control of the House for the first
time in 40 years, along with eight Senate seats, that was a wave.

The common characteristic of these "wave" elections was that the winning
party not only virtually won all of the races expected to be close, but
they also pulled off upsets, impressive upsets. Some of their own
incumbents, who had seemed destined to be defeated, actually survived,
while long-shot challengers and open-seat candidates, facing enormous
odds in very difficult districts, won or came very close as well.

That did not happen last Tuesday. Not one House seat in the country that
had been rated leaning, likely or solidly Democratic in the Oct. 20,
final post-election issue of the Cook Political Report went Republican.
(For that matter, no leaning, likely or solidly Republican seat went
Democratic, either.) Republicans simply won seven out of 11 of the
toss-up races. Only one Senate seat that was leaning, likely or solidly
Democratic in our final issue went Republican, and that was freshman
Georgia Sen. Max Cleland's. We had moved his race to the toss-up column
on our Web site and in speech handouts during the week before the
election, as polls indicated that his challenger, GOP Rep. Saxby
Chambliss, had begun to surge. We also had moved the Republican North
Carolina open-seat race and freshman Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary
Landrieu to toss-up status during that final full week.


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In the 36 governors' races, there were two major upsets. Democratic Gov.
Roy Barnes, who had been rated a likely victor, lost to former state
Sen. Sonny Perdue in Georgia. But a big Democratic upset happened in
Oklahoma, where state Sen. Brad Henry upset former Rep. Steve Largent.

Before the election, we were saying Republicans almost certainly would
hold onto the House, there would be minimal turnover, and the likely
outcome was somewhere between a Democratic gain of two seats and a
Republican gain of four seats. Right now Republicans are up five seats;
if their lead in the open Colorado 7th District holds and they win the
runoff in Louisiana's 5th District, they will make it up to seven seats.
Rather presciently, Mike McElwain, the National Republican Congressional
Committee political director, told us the week before the election that
if the GOP held every seat in which they were up in the polls, they
would score a net gain of seven seats. So what happened in the House was
a really good night for Republicans, but it hardly reached the magnitude
of a wave. Indeed, a switch of approximately 42,500 votes nationwide
would have resulted in a Democratic-controlled House instead.

In short, very, very few upsets took place on Election Day. Most of the
closest races simply broke Republican at the end, with Republicans
winning a number of close races by very small margins in seven out of
our final 10 toss-up Senate races. Democrats won two, and Louisiana is
still outstanding, pending the Dec. 7 runoff. But this is not much
different from 2000, when Democrats won eight of the 10 toss-up Senate
races, netting four seats -- or 1998, when Democrats won six out of
nine. No wave happened in 2002, only a light breeze that was sufficient
to tip a number of the closest races to Republicans.

The delay in release of accurate exit-poll data prevented us from
understanding what really happened. Did Republicans finally shape up
their get-out-the-vote effort? Did an insufficient number of minority
voters turn out for Democrats? These are theories that may be confirmed
before too long; but for now, suffice to say that Republicans had a good
night. This was no tidal wave, no seismic shift in American politics.



************************************
Charlie Cook's "Off To The Races" is published each Tuesday
by National Journal Group Inc. For more information about
National Journal Group's publications, go to
http://www.nationaljournal.com/about/

Posted November 12, 2002 08:05 AM | Trackback (0)

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