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.
Given the importance of this column, and the fact that it's not available online, I've taken the liberty of reproducing it here. Click "More" to read the full column. And, if you are a political junky, sign up for Cook's email column. Agree or disagree, Charlie Cook truly is compelling reading.
OFF TO THE RACES
By Charlie Cook
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
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
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.