No Signs of Turnover Yet Republicans Prematurely Prophesy Sweeping Comeback in 1994 Elections

By Mark P. Petracca. Mark P. Petracca is associate professor of political science , Irvine. Among other works, he is co- of "The American Presidency" and editor of "The Politics of Interests. " | The Christian Science Monitor, December 13, 1993 | Go to article overview

No Signs of Turnover Yet Republicans Prematurely Prophesy Sweeping Comeback in 1994 Elections


Mark P. Petracca. Mark P. Petracca is associate professor of political science , Irvine. Among other works, he is co- of "The American Presidency" and editor of "The Politics of Interests. ", The Christian Science Monitor


FIRST it was Paul Coverdell in Georgia, then Kay Bailey Hutchinson in Texas and Richard Riordan in Los Angeles.

Barely recovered from the defeat of George Bush in the 1992 presidential election, Republicans began to speculate openly about possible gains in the House of Representatives and prospects for recapturing control of the Senate in 1994.

Then, in early November elections, three more Republicans won major elections: Christine Todd Whitman ousted Democratic Gov. Jim Florio in New Jersey, Rudolph Giuliani sent David Dinkins packing in New York's mayoral contest, and George Allen beat out Mary Sue Terry for the open governor's seat in Virginia.

Six major elections held in the United States since Bill Clinton became president have gone to Republicans. A few Democrats won important mayoral races on Nov. 2 - Dennis Archer in Detriot, Thomas Murphy in Pittsburgh, Sharon Sayles Belton in Minneapolis, and Thomas Menino in Boston. And the GOP suffered one significant mishap Dec. 8 when Ms. Hutchinson was indicted a second time on election fraud charges almost identical to those dismissed six weeks ago. But Republicans remain sanguine. Instead of speculating about forthcoming gains in the House and Senate in 1994, they are beginning to predict them.

Of course, these are the same folks who thought Mr. Bush invincible in the fall of 1991 after a summer of parades celebrating the president's triumph in the Persian Gulf war. Republican pundits would be well advised to consult their history books before putting too much of their credibility on the line in predicting a resurgence for the GOP in 1994.

First, consider the House of Representatives. The average loss in the House for the president's party during midterm congressional elections is historically very high, but not high enough for even the most devoted GOP enthusiasts to contemplate a Republican majority come January 1995. From 1862-1990 the average midterm loss in the House for the president's party was 34 seats. If the 1994 election followed this pattern it could mean a 21-seat to 34-seat gain for the GOP. The best scenario would still leave Republicans 35 seats shy of a majority in the House.

The loss of seats for the president's party in the House typically followed a boost in House seats for members of the president's party. In times past, presidents brought members of the same party into Congress with them during the general election, hence the idea of "presidential coattails." For example, Democrats picked up 75 House seats with Truman's victory in 1948, and Republicans picked up 34 seats with Ronald Reagan's election in 1980.

Midterm congressional elections then took back from the president's party some part of what was gained in the general election (and on occasion even more than that). Republicans won 47 new seats in the House in President Lyndon Johnson's midterm election in 1966, and 49 new Democrats entered the House following the Watergate debacle in the election of 1974.

However, in the current era of candidate-centered politics, a president's coattails do not hold much influence in congressional elections. …

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