Stuart Rothberg doesn't know history: Republicans may win the House in 2010

I read this morning that Stuart Rothberg, the solid and rightly respected political analyst, has concluded that Republicans’ dreaming of recapturing the House of Representatives are “dreaming,” and that there is ZERO chance of such party control. 


May I submit that Mr. Rothberg simply does not know his history.

Historically where one party controls both houses of Congress and the White House, the party out of power typically wins a large number of seats.  The last four instance of such elections were 2006, 1994, 1978, and 1966, in which the party out of power won 30, 54, 15, and 47, respectively.  On average, since World War II, the party out of power won 30 seats, and since 1912, that party has won an average of 37 seats.

The exceptional years were 1934 (which Rothberg cites as a model–very unlikely for reasons I can discuss in comments), as well as 1962.  1962 (as well as the poor performance in 1978) were largely a result of spikes in presidential approval resulting from foreign policy matters (Cuban missile crisis (Oct. 1962) and Camp David Accords (Sept. 1978)).

So if Republicans perform on an average basis, they will pick up about 30 seats.  Can they make it to 40?  Barring a major foreign policy success of the Obama administration in the fall of 2010, I think there are two reasons for confidence in winning 40 seats:

1. The economy is likely to be performing weakly until late 2010, and recovery is unlikely to be robust at that point–and Obama has wisely decided to withhold spending much of the stimulus until HIS reelection–to give the ILLUSION of a robust recovery.

2. Much of the Democratic Party’s success in in the last two congressional elections is owed to factors that will not be present in 2010: in 2006 it was the Iraq war, and in 2010, it was the surge of youth and minority votes in response to Obama.  In 2010, Iraq will not be an issue that can hurt Republicans, if it’s an issue at all, and Hope-Change will not be on the ballot to help down-ballot liberals, who will be, in truth, the establishment candidates.

3. Republicans’ generic ballot numbers are already at levels that Republicans haven’t seen since 2005–only 3 points behind the Democrats.  And as pollsters will tell you, Republicans typically outperform the generic ballot by 3-5 points.

Summary: while winning the Senate would take a miracle (tho I think history suggests the Republicans can win 3-4 seats), Republicans have a decent chance of recapturing the House in 2010.  Most probably they will win at least 20 seats, and have, I think, a 50-50 chance of winning the 40 seats necessary to recapture the House.

Think this is crazy?  How did it look for the out-of-power party in April of 2005, 1993, 1953, or 1945?  If I had posted here in April 2005 that I thought the Democrats would capture a comfortable majority in 2006, I would have been banned for excessive comedy.  But read history, and it gives you a different story.