Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) seems pretty excited about the future electoral prospects of the Republican Party. Speaking at a recent GOPAC event (GOPAC is a 527 committee organized in 1978 by Delaware Gov. Pierre DuPont in 1978 to train Republican candidates) Pawlenty was enthusiastic about the opportunities being presented to the GOP by the Obama Administration’s initiatives on healthcare and cap and trade among others.
Pawlenty is a two term governor who was on Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential shortlist and who now is recognized as a potential GOP presidential nominee in 2012. Pawlenty offered that as the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats over-reach on the issues, the GOP will have the chance to offer a contrast and gain electorally. To Pawlenty’s credit, he did also say that “We (the GOP) can’t just be critics in chief.” By this it is assumed Pawlenty meant the GOP must offer specific counterproposals when criticizing the Obama Administration in order to be taken seriously and this is to be applauded.
However, where are these electoral gains to come from? Red Elephant has offered some analysis on the gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia this year and recent polling in both states indicate that the GOP is poised to win each race. Historically the party in power loses 17 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives during off-year elections, so it is worth taking a brief look at the terrain going into 2010.
There are currently between 20 and 36 House races that could be loosely termed competitive. Mostly they are seats with a Democratic incumbent. Of the 20-36 seats, roughly 10 could be categorized as being a toss-up – nearly all leaning Democratic. Four are pure toss-ups by virtue of being open seats; three are open seats and one is currently vacant (with a special election to be announced in 2009). Three of these seats had a Republican Member of Congress.
It is likely that the Democrats will lose seats in the House in 2010, although it is going to be tough for the GOP to achieve the average gain of 17 seats. There are simply not enough competitive seats for the GOP to pick up the House in 2010. The drama of this summer’s healthcare town hall meetings and the spring’s tea bag protests normally indicate voters are displeased with the majority party. While there is undoubtedly anger among the voting population, it is not yet solely directed at Pres. Obama and the Democrats as it was in 1994 when the Republican Party took control of the U.S. House and Senate. Therefore these protests do not appear to be building a wave of revolt that will crest on Election Day 2010 and deposit GOP victories on the shore.
Of the toss-up races, one currently favors the GOP (NY-23) and the rest lean Democratic. Of those that lean Democratic they are all, but one, occupied by Democratic lawmakers. The exception is IL-10 which is represented by Rep. Mark Kirk who is running for the U.S. Senate to replace the stain of Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL).
So while Gov. Pawlenty is plenty excited about the future; a review of real GOP electoral prospects reveals dimness for the GOP that should make Republican lawmakers, consultants and activists take notice of the one important thing Pawlenty said at the GOPAC event. In other words, the GOP cannot redouble its efforts towards electoral pick-ups until it remembers its aim. Unfortunately for the GOP it is the gang that can’t shoot straight.