Will Americans be wary of giving the Democrats untrammelled power?
In all the many conversations I have had this last year, I have not met a single politically-minded who believes that the Republican party can take back either the US House of Representatives, or the US Senate in November 2008.
The first indications are that the Democrats will very easily pick up five seats in the Upper Chamber (VA, NH, NM, CO, AK) with some estimates reckoning 8 or 9 gains are possible for Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the DNSC. The House is less certain, though with more than three times as many GOP incumbants retiring as Democrats, most expectations have the Democrats significantly increasing their lead under Speaker Pelosi (D – CA08).
This backdrop – of a stella year to be a Democratic candidate – is a mixed blessing for Barack Obama. It gives momentum and energy to his activist base and his fundraisers, though must weigh a little heavily when the polls do not indicate the leads that many of his supporters were expecting by this stage. The slight added pressure, though, is markedly preferable to the circumstances of the last two elections, and many Democrats are already sounding triumphant about regaining the White House.
And yet there is another angle to this. The entire structure of the Federal Government is predicated on the system of ‘checks and balances’ between the three mutually-exclusive branches of government (Executive, Legislature, and Judicial), and there will be (or is already) a nervousness about electing a new President whose party enjoys such healthy majorities in both chambers of the US Congress.
There are plenty of states that are capable of aligning themselves with both the Democrats and the Republicans (the ‘swing-states’) but there are several more that have a history of ‘split ticket voting’ – whereby voters will support a different party at each level of government. Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia are just three that most readily come to mind as states with many (or all) of their Congressional delegations from one party that regularly vote for the other party for President.
Given that the Democrats’ fifty-state strategy is unlikely to fail to increase their majorities in both chambers of Congress, I would be astounded if (probably during the final weeks of the campaign) John McCain didn’t explicitly introduce the question: “Do you want to give the Democratic Party the keys to the White House, when they already control the Congress?”.
If we were talking about just control of the lower chamber, this would not be an issue, but increased control of the Senate (even the ability to invoke a unilateral cloture motion to prevent a filibuster) gives the Democrats the upper hand in every area of government, most importantly the appointing of federal Circuit Judges and Supreme Court Justices.
If John McCain struggles to make a positive case as to why he is best placed to be President of the United States, I think his strategists might recognise that their best hope of winning is to cast doubt on the wisdom of electing Obama when his colleagues are in the ascendency in the Legislature. And I wonder if it might just work.