Here’s why Democrats can’t win the House | Rich Elfers

Why isn’t the House of Representatives up for grabs like the Senate? If you’ve been watching the Congressional election races recently you know the Senate is up for grabs between Democrats and Republicans.

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  • Monday, October 13, 2014 10:23pm
  • Opinion

Why isn’t the House of Representatives up for grabs like the Senate? If you’ve been watching the Congressional election races recently you know the Senate is up for grabs between Democrats and Republicans. Even though there are more Democrats nationally and despite the fact that President Obama won handily in 2008 and 2012, there is virtually no chance the Republicans will lose control of the House; in fact, they may add some seats, as many as 12.

Writer Nate Cohn in the Sept. 6, 2014, New York Times article, “Why Democrats Can’t Win the House,“ tells us why.

The Democratic excuse is “Gerrymandering” – the voting districts are set up in such a way that of those 435 seats, only 50 or 60 are really competitive and considered toss-ups. But, according to Cohn, that’s only part of the answer. Gerrymandering is considered to have cost the Democrats only six to eight House seats.

The key to understanding this paradox lies in where Americans live, either urban or rural. Most Democrats live in cities and their outlying suburbs. During the 2008 and 2012 elections, President Obama won 80 percent of the urban vote. Republicans tend to congregate in rural areas and in prosperous residential areas on the fringes of those large cities.

This allows the Democrats to handily win presidential elections, because the urban areas hold an excess of progressives. The dearth of Democrats in Republican strongholds, however, makes it virtually impossible to turn a conservative red district blue for a House seat.

The president’s campaign strategy in his two election bids emphasized gay rights, funding of contraception, restriction of guns and mining, and immigration reform, but these issues are extremely unpopular in normally blue-collar, working-class districts which tend to be more religious and conservative.

As a result of this campaign strategy, Obama has attracted, according to Cohn, almost all the nonwhite voters, as well as young and educated liberals. Although they helped him win his presidential elections, their votes are wasted during House contests because they are concentrated in and around large cities.

According to Cohn’s article, “By far the most important factor contributing to the Republican advantage…is the natural geographic factor of Democrats’ being overwhelmingly concentrated in these urban districts, especially in states like Michigan and Florida.”

This demographic trend is expected to continue after President Obama’s term ends. If Hilary Clinton is the 2016 Democratic nominee, she is likely to win more votes among white conservatives in the South. Time will also play a part because many Republicans are older and will die off over time. Many nonwhite minorities concentrated in large American cities might also migrate into the more traditionally conservative areas, diluting the Republican advantage.

The statistical and political fact of a Republican dominated House will make it difficult for President Obama to make any headway with his progressive agenda in his final two years in office.  So, no matter who wins the Senate, the House will stay Republican for the foreseeable future, meaning gridlock and tension between the president and the House will continue.

It’s fascinating to see how President Obama’s strategy to win the White House can be so overwhelmingly successful for his party on one hand and, at the same time, keep it from being able to pass legislation and bring about major, progressive reform on the other.

The founders’ concern for checks and balances in our government continues to tip power back and forth between the president and Congress. They were very much concerned that power not be concentrated in anyone’s hands. In that, they have been very successful, and their legacy continues into our time.


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Richard Elfers is a columnist, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor.
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