While much of America’s attention during this political season has been on presidential politics, there is more to the election than who will be taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in January. How the Congress shapes up is a major question, and contributing editor Jason Kettinger takes up a contrarian position in forecasting the balance of power.
The American people are about to demonstrate their tendency for divided government. Contrary to what many pundits are forcasting, voters will return the House of Representatives to the Republicans on November 4.
Though the meaning of the historic lows of the Pelosi Congress have been overstated by commentators – noted Yale political scientist David Mayhew reminds us that Congress's approval rating rarely escapes the 30s – the current, much lower levels indicate a distinct willingness to “throw the bums out.” Rather than an ideological return to conservatism, it will reflect the best-known means of expressing political dissatisfaction, given the bluntness of our political instruments, and the ideological vapidity of our political culture: voting for “the other guy.”
As ironic as it may seem, Mickey Kaus has already noted that a move to hand Congress to the Republicans could reflect an electorate growing more comfortable with an Obama presidency. Moderates and conservatives who defect to Obama still may salve their consciences by enacting this particular check on Obama's ideological predilections. I would also expect McCain partisans – even if resigned to an Obama presidency – to be fervent in their support of Congressional Republicans.
A quick aside, if I may. In addition to the presidency and the congressional races, of course the balance of power amongst governors is also of interest. Missouri has an interesting race in which the incumbent Republican decided not to run for reelection earlier this year, thus reworking a race long thought to be between Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt and Attorney General Jay Nixon. In the end, Rep. Kenny Hulshof became the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
I expect Jay Nixon to be the next Governor of Missouri. Hulshof has long inspired fierce loyalty from his supporters, such as me, but he has not found a compelling narrative in a Democratic year for his candidacy. In addition, Nixon has been fairly effective in at least appearing to get to Hulshof's right on that great conservative warhorse – taxes. Given that the country has also traded military nationalism for the economic kind – protectionism – we'll find that political sin of “shipping jobs overseas” has a special resonance in this race as well. In addition, whatever criticisms of Nixon's positions may be offered, “off-putting leftist” does not strike me as an apt descriptor of him.
The outcome of this race will not be all that surprising for anyone. But, when the Republicans take the house, well, remember, you heard it here.
Jason Kettinger is a contributing editor of Open for Business.