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It’s been just 1,397 days since Democrats took the reins of power on Capitol Hill, but in a single day, they could see it come to an end.
Today’s midterm elections promise to bring about a historic power shift on Capitol Hill for the third time in as many cycles. With such a volatile electorate throwing power in Washington back and forth, by Wednesday the question could turn to how long the latest change will last and whether “wave” elections will become the norm as voters continue to seek instant political transformation from their leaders.
“Part of what’s happened is we’ve had three election cycles where we’ve convinced people that the system sucks,” Democratic consultant Dave Beattie said Monday. “And they truly believe that the system sucks. So we’ve succeeded in convincing people of that, and now we have to live with their anger at being in a political system that sucks.”
As a result of the discontent with Democratic rule, House Republicans could see gains in excess of the 52 seats they picked up in 1994, the last time the GOP was swept into power. A tougher Senate field makes it likely that the House could flip without the Senate changing hands, which hasn’t happened since World War II.
Among the most-watched races tonight will be that of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was joined Monday by first lady Michelle Obama for the Nevada Democratic Party’s final get-out-the-vote rally. Reid drew the battle lines and asked the 1,200 activists to consider the price of failure.
“I need you in the next few hours. Don’t let someone else work harder than you,” he said. “You need to knock on an extra door. You need to make that extra phone call.”
These midterms are a stunning turnaround from four years ago, when voter anger at Republican control of the White House and Congress put Reid and Democrats in power.
On election night 2006, Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described the results as a mandate “to restore stability and bipartisanship” in Washington. That didn’t happen, but another Democratic wave in 2008 left the Republican Party in tatters, while Senate Democrats briefly enjoyed a filibuster-proof majority and used it enact historic and controversial health care reform.
During a speech to the Allen County Republican Party in Lima, Ohio, on Friday, House Minority Leader John Boehner — the Ohio Republican who is set to become Speaker after an expected GOP sweep tonight — struck a theme similar to Pelosi’s 2006 promise.
“We have a Congress today that is so bottled up, so tied up in knots,” he said. “There’s literally five people who start the process of passing a bill, and the same five people decide what the outcome is going to be of that bill. ... It’s time to open up the process and allow all Members of the House of Representatives the opportunity to debate bills, to offer amendments to bills and truly represent their constituents. But we have to fix the Congress of the United States.”
However, even if the Republican wave turns into a tsunami, the results aren’t likely to be read as an embrace of the GOP but rather a rejection of where Democrats have taken the country.