Last Tuesday, a large number of states held their Congressional primaries leading up to the November elections. For months, the conventional wisdom among pundits and prognosticators has been that the Republicans will lose control of the House of Representatives in Washington and could lose the Senate, as well. Six weeks is still an eternity in an election, but the trends afoot don't seem to back up the conventional wisdom. Can the Republicans still lose both the House and the Senate? Absolutely. Some critics outside of the Democratic circles would even argue that they should lose in order to be brought back to their senses, especially on fiscal issues.
Congressional elections, however, are a hodge-podge of local elections that determine who makes up Congress. At this juncture, it appears that Republicans may be benefitting from the Democrats' inability thus far to nationalize the 2006 elections.
There are 435 seats up for grabs in the House of Representatives. Of that number, only about 30 remain truly in play at this late stage of the process. To take control under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats would have to pick up 15 additional seats. Most—but not all—of those 30 vulnerable seats are held by Republicans, and most of them are open seats, which are easier to take than having to beat an incumbent. Two of those 30 seats, however, are held by Democratic incumbents in Georgia. There is an excellent chance that the GOP will pick up at least one of those two seats, which would make the Democrats' magic number 16, not 15.
Three of the 15 seats the Democrats are counting on winning are held by incumbent Republicans in Connecticut. A few months ago, in the afterglow of the Ned Lamont primary victory over incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democrats believed that the electorate in the Nutmeg State would toss the three Republican House members out on their ears in a frenzy of anti-Bush fervor. Interestingly, Lieberman—the Democrat who was targeted by the anti-Bush crowd—is now running as an Independent and is leading Lamont in the polls. Likewise, the three Republican incumbents are doing more than holding their own in their contests. If the Democrats can't sweep those three Connecticut seats, their odds of taking the House plummet.
In New York, the conventional wisdom was that runaway victories by Senator Hillary Clinton and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer, would have a turnout effect that could bring up to five congressional seats into the Democratic fold. Even The New York Times recently noted that may not be the case, citing polling data that shows one of the Republicans perceived to be most vulnerable with a substantial lead. If the Democrats can't run the table on vulnerable Republican seats in strong "blue" states, they are likely to encounter even greater difficulties in the South, the West and the Midwest.
On the Senate side, odds are getting stronger that the Republicans will maintain control of the Senate. Liberal Republican Lincoln Chafee's primary victory (with strong support from national Republican organizations) gives the GOP a good chance to hold on to this most vulnerable Republican seat. Instead of using their precious resources in other key races, the Democrats will now have to pour them into Rhode Island to try to defeat Chafee.
The Republicans will definitely lose seats in both the House and Senate in the November elections. But, at least at this juncture, it appears premature to be penciling in Harry Reid as Senate President and Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.