As House Democrats try to figure out how to rebound from their Election Day drubbing, 2010 may come to signify a political realignment with ramifications well into the next decade.
There’s little doubt states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York will continue to be battlegrounds in 2012 and beyond. But among the 60 seats Republicans won Tuesday are 15 or more staunchly conservative districts where Democrats are unlikely to compete again anytime soon.
Independent voters, many of them in suburban areas in the Midwest and Mountain West, had backed Democrats up and down the ballot in 2006 and 2008. But they swung heavily toward Republicans in 2010. Those areas are likely to be decisive in the coming presidential cycle.
But Democrats suffered heavy House losses in the South and the coal-rich Ohio River Valley — two areas where downballot Democrats on the ticket in 2012 will have to run well ahead of President Barack Obama to compete.
What’s more, pickups on both the Congressional and state legislative levels have Republicans thinking they can tilt the Congressional lines in those areas further in their favor through redistricting.
On Wednesday, some Republican leaders were already viewing the results as the beginning of a new realignment of the American political system. Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said that these elections will go down as bringing “broader and deeper” changes to American politics than even the historic 1994 election.
“I believe it’s pretty long-lasting. I think there’s a chord that’s been struck,” Gillespie said. “I do think that 2012 will be a very defining moment for the country, and voters will see it that way.”
Democrats spent Wednesday trying to put the losses in perspective. All of the gains the party made in 2006 and 2008 were washed away in one night.
“I’ve been through enough of these now where I’m reminding my staff today that in 2008, they were talking about the Republican Party being dead. In 2004, they were talking about a permanent Republican majority,” North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Andrew Whalen said. “These things are cyclical, and what the map looks like today, it’s not going to look like in 2012.”
Among the defeated veteran Democrats were Reps. Rick Boucher (Va.), John Spratt (S.C.), Ike Skelton (Mo.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.). All had survived the 1994 GOP wave and had routinely been re-elected easily despite their constituents’ growing tendency to support Republicans at the state and federal level. Now that they’ve lost, it’s hard to see how Democrats will be competitive again in those territories. Republican insiders said it wasn’t entirely by chance that many of the most conservative districts held by Democrats went Republican in the wave.
“One of our major strategies from the beginning was to target the reddest seats, regardless of how popular the Democrat incumbent was,” said GOP strategist Brad Todd, who helped craft House Republicans’ strategy through his work with the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Todd offered a couple of reasons why Republicans thought the strategy could work.
“One, we expected a polarized national election where Republicans would have a better chance the redder the district,” he said. “And two, we felt it would help build a lasting majority if we elected Republicans in districts that wanted to elect Republicans for the long term.”