Congressional races difficult to call

UCA political science professors are full of opinions when it comes to Election Day, but most agree the outcomes of this year’s Congressional races are hard to predict.

The president’s party typically loses Congressional seats in mid-term election years. According to Roger H. Davidson and Walter J. Oleszek in their book “Congress and Its Members”: since 1934, the president’s party has lost an average of 25.7 seats to the opposition and has consistently lost seats in every election except for Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) in 1934, William J. Clinton (D) in 1998 and George W. Bush (R) in 2002. In the Senate, the president’s party loses an average of 3.2 seats.

In the current House there are 232 Republicans, 205 Democrats and one Democrat-aligned Independent, giving the Republicans the majority-vote advantage. Democrats need 218 seats to gain control in the house, which means they need to win 13 seats on Election Day Tuesday. Three of these seats are currently vacant.

In the current Senate there are 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one Democrat-aligned Independent. Democrats need to win 6 seats to gain control of the Senate. There are no Senate races in Arkansas this year – only a third of Senate seats come up for vote every two years, because Senators serve six-year terms.

Political science Professor Donald Whistler said if history is any indication, chances are slim for the Republicans retaining control of Congress, but the election is still hard to predict.

“What would constitute a Democrat or Republican victory would be control of the chamber. [The Democrats] may actually be able to do that, but I’m not sure that they will,” Whistler said. “Normally you have a pretty good feel, and you can almost predict it, but for this election I don’t get that sense of reasonable predictability.”

Political science department chair Clay Arnold said current polls suggest the Democrats will win.

“If all the contested districts go in favor of the Democrats, they will have a chance at control, which makes this one well worth watching,” Arnold said.

Political science Assistant Professor Joe Howard said he thinks there’s a 50-50 chance Democrats will gain control.

“How bad it does or doesn’t happen is hard to forecast,” Howard said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Republicans managed to hold on in both the House and Senate. If I were asked to place a bet, I wouldn’t do it.”

Political science Professor Gary Wekkin, however, said his money would be on the Democrats taking the House.

“By the numbers this is their best chance. They have to focus now on getting Democrats to the polls, which should be easier than usually because their vote can really make a difference. But with the Senate though, it’s a toss up. I won’t predict that one.” Wekkin said.

Howard said Republicans may still favor well, because they’ve known about Bush’s low approval ratings for a while now and have had time to prepare.

“Republicans have notoriously shown an ability to maintain and get out their base,” Howard said.

Whistler said Republicans will be trying next week to get voters to the polls.

“The economy is booming, and the economy is the single best predictor for an incumbent party,” Whistler said. “Secondly, what is the international war and diplomatic situation? Clearly we have a problem with Iraq.

“The last two weeks before the election will be critical. It depends on how much casualty rates get worse or better in Iraq. Will Americans, when they finally go to the polls, say, ‘Well, Iraq is a mess, but we’ve got to stay the course or it’ll be a worse mess,’ meaning a vote for the Republicans?

“Insurgents in Iraq know this. Republicans will try to speak out against American elections being influenced by terrorists. We’ll see ads that ask ‘are you going to let Osama dictate this election by their focusing on American troops and increasing casualty rates to the point where we cut and run?’ Or will Republicans convince Americans that these colors don’t run? They might be able to do it. They’ll be trying,” Whistler said.

However, Wekkin said backlash from the Iraq war and other world events could be bad for both parties.

“If people get too fed up with things and blame Washington, it may mean that voters with both parties will stay home,” Wekkin said.

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