Congress Split Down the Middle - the House and Senate Are More Closely Divided between the Republicans and Democrats Than in at Least a Century
Lambro, Donald, The World and I
Like the bitterly contested presidential election results in Florida that for a time plunged America into division, doubt, and despair, the new 107th Congress is split right down the middle.
Reflecting a politically conflicted electorate that is torn between two sharply competing philosophies of government--the big government, big- spending, liberal agenda of the Democrats versus the more conservative, tax-cutting, limited-government agenda offered by the Republicans--the House and Senate are now more divided than they have been in at least a century.
The unexpected shocker of the 2000 congressional elections is which house experienced the biggest political changeover. With the Democrats seven seats away from winning control of the House of Representatives, Republicans managed to hold them largely at bay, suffering only a one- seat loss. Though the Republican majority is slightly weaker, the political situation in the House has not changed much. The GOP has a good chance of expanding its majority two years from now.
Senate Republicans, however, who were expected to pick up one or two open Democratic seats, or cede several at most, ended up losing their four-seat advantage to the Democrats. In a word, disaster for the GOP in the upper chamber--giving Democrats a good chance of taking control in 2002.
The result in the House is that Republicans will have 221 seats and Democrats will have 212. There will be two independents--not much different than in the previous Congress. This tight but still workable majority should be helped by a number of conservative Democrats who often side with the Republicans on key votes.
The Senate divided
The Senate, though, appears headed for a rare 50--50 split, the first tie since 1881. The incoming administration's vice president, who presides over the Senate, will possess the critical tiebreaking vote, allowing him to decide which party will control the chamber, its committee chairmanships, and all future tie votes.
The outcome in the Senate was a major victory for the Democrats, who benefited from an unlikely series of unexpected, even bizzare events. But it was also a series of missed opportunities for Republicans, who, under different circumstances, could have picked up a few seats.
In a stunning rout, the GOP lost five Senate incumbents to the Democrats. Michigan Sen. Spencer Abraham was beaten by Rep. Debbie Stabenow; the tax-writing Finance Committee chairman, Bill Roth, lost to Delware Gov. Tom Carper; Slade Gorton of Washington was upset in a squeaker by former Rep. Maria Cantwell; and Rod Grams of Minnesota was beaten by Mark Dayton.
In what must surely be the strangest Senate election contest in U.S. history, John Ashcroft of Missouri was defeated by Gov. Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash a few weeks before the election was held. In a bold political maneuver of dubious constitutionality, Carnahan's widow agreed to accept an appointment to fill the vacancy of her dead husband's seat if he won. Thus, she in effect beat Ashcroft as the de facto candidate on a wave of public sympathy.
In contrast, the Democrats lost only one incumbent: Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia, who was easily defeated by former Gov. George Allen, one of the GOP's up-and-coming younger generation of leaders. Allen charged that Robb was "out of step" with Virginia's conservative values and voted as if "he was the senator from Vermont instead of the senator from Virginia."
Republicans had only one open Senate seat to defend in Florida due to Connie Mack's retirement. But Rep. Bill McCollum, a somewhat lackluster candidate at best, was defeated by state insurance commissioner Bill Nelson, who was clearly helped by the heavier than usual Democratic turnout for Al Gore in the presidential race.
This isn't to say that the Republicans lacked opportunities to make gains. They had many turnover chances but were unable to convert any of them. …