Tough fight for Democrats

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 31 Oct 2004

WHETHER President George W. Bush gets a second term or whether John Kerry is the new president, both will find the going tough with an all-powerful Senate so closely divided. 

It will be especially tough for Kerry if the Republicans, who control both houses, retain their control with more seats given the acrimonious nature of this year’s presidential campaign. This time around the wounds may be harder to heal. 

In the Senate the Republicans have 51 seats and the Democrats 49. There will be 34 races this year with the Democrats defending 19 seats and the Republicans 15 seats and it looks like a very tough election for Senate Democrats. 

“Not only do they not have numbers on their side, having to defend 19 seats, but also 10 of these seats are in states President Bush won in 2000,” said Jennifer Duffy, managing editor of The Cook Political Report

In comparison, of the 15 Republican seats, former vice-president Al Gore carried only three states. 

The incumbent re-election rate in the Senate is something like 97% and unfortunately for the Democrats, the five open seats are all in the South, very much Bush country. 

Duffy, who is responsible for following both Senate and governors’ races, said the Democrats got handed a very bad hand and the cards were not in their favour. 

The Senate will be decided on nine races and of these Democrats hold five of these seats and these are the open seats in Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina and one incumbent seat, that of minority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. 

Republicans have four seats that could go either way. One is in Alaska, the other in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Colorado. 

“For the Democrats to retake the Senate, they either need to win six of these nine states if Kerry is elected president, because then, John Edwards would be the deciding vote in the Senate in the event of a tie; or seven seats if Bush is re-elected,” said Duffy. 

“That’s a pretty tall order. They have to win a lot of these states and it’s very, very difficult for them to do so,” she added. 

And according to her, Republicans have about a 70% chance of holding on to the Senate. The question now was whether they could build on their majority and go beyond the 51 seats they now hold. 

As things stand however, it does not look like the Senate is going to be much different at the start of 2005. And even if the Democrats were to take back the Senate, they would not have any room to spare. 

Regardless of who is in the White House and who controls the Senate, it would be very much like the last two years with close votes and gridlock. 

“I would say that if Senator Daschle were to lose re-election, maybe both parties would think about whether obstructionism in really a valid strategy or whether it ends up hurting the party overall,” said Duffy. 

If the Republicans control the Senate and the House what impact would that have on the politics of the country for the next four years? 

She said that in terms of national policy one would see them emboldened to pick up some of the legislation that they tried to get through. 

“They do risk overstepping here, for being too aggressive in what they want. And that doesn’t serve them well in the long haul. 

“I think Republicans are looking at a very difficult four years, just politically, in terms of the party,” said Duffy. 


60% of electorate to vote 

THIS year’s election turnout is expected to be between 58% and 60%, or 118 million to 121 million people, an increase of 12 million to 15 million people over 2000, according to Curtis Gans, director for the Study of the American Electorate. 

“We have a level of intensity in this election that I have not seen in our politics since 1968 and the war in Vietnam and Lyndon Johnson,” he said. 

But he feels there would be one group where there would be a decline in turnout - moderate Republicans. 

He said moderate Republicans see Bush as too extreme, particularly on fiscal matters and a little bit on Iraq. 

“They are very deeply concerned about fiscal responsibility and the debt. Some of them will hold their noses and vote for Bush, some can bring themselves to vote for John Kerry, but many of them will go to the polls and vote for senator and governor but blank for president. I think that’s going to happen,” said Gans. 

He too sees the increase in turnout would benefit Kerry. 

The Republicans could look to potential increases among the four million Evangelical fundamentalists that Republican strategist Karl Rove targeted. 

The could also look to increases in the military vote and perhaps in the rural vote. Almost every other demographic group that might increase their turnout was likely to help the Democrats. 

“So if turnout is 112 million, the Republicans are likely to benefit. If turnout is 118 million, the Democrats are likely to benefit,” he said. 

Gans said the increased turnout was likely to be temporary and was deeply rooted in longer-term social issues. 

“We’ve had, through presidential statements beginning in 1967, ‘I am not going to send American boys to do what Asian boys are supposed to do.’ ‘I am not a crook.’ That’s Richard Nixon. ‘I did not know anything about Iran-Contra.’ ‘Read my lips, no new taxes.’ ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman.’ And, ‘We are in imminent danger of weapons of mass destruction.’ 

“We have a lower level of trust in our leadership than perhaps at any time, surely at any time in my lifetime, and I’m 67. That lower level of trust has afflicted the media insofar as we get a much more cynical coverage of our politics than we used to get,” he said. 


IT’S all the polls, the polls, the polls. 

JOHN Zogby, pollster and President/CEO of Zogby International calls this election “the Armageddon election”. 

“Armageddon, each side is saying, essentially, that if the other side wins it’s the end of the world as we know it. 

“We have had close elections before, but never – or seldom – have we beenthis polarised, this angry, and this unwilling to accept the winner of a close election if it’s the other guy,” Zogby told foreign journalists. 

He said that what was remarkable was that much of this election reflected the election of 2000. 

Like most polls, it is said that the undecided voter would decide the outcome. 

But just who are these undecided voters? 

These voters tend to be Independents, in terms of party affiliation are moderate and tend to be middle-aged voters.  

Zogby said they had polled the undecided and found that they liked the president as a person and gave him good marks for leadership and decisiveness though they appear to be very opposed to the war and the way the country got into it. They also gave the president good marks on personal morality and family values. 

At the same time, they liked Kerry, that he was smart and competent enough to be president. They also felt that Kerry was one they identified with on their issues, domestic issues like the economy and health care, and education. They have questions about whether or not they trust where he stands on issues. 

“Significantly, from the polling we find that only 1 in 5 of the undecided voters tell us that the President deserves to be re-elected. Between 30% and 40% of the undecided tell us that they feel it is time for someone new,” he said. 


  • Johan Fernandez is Editor, North America Bureau, based in New York (email:  

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