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Photo Finish: Close Presidential and Congressional Races Could Affirm the Status Quo

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
President Barack Obama delivered his closing argument to voters in the swing state of Virginia this week. No matter who wins the presidential election today, the partisanship of Washington, D.C. isn’t likely to change much.

Yet even with many compromisers leaving, there are glimmers of optimism among some on Capitol Hill who hope the elections will prompt factions to come to the negotiating table for a grand bargain of some sort, if only out of sheer necessity rather than some broad bipartisan awakening. Various bipartisan “gangs,” particularly in the Senate, have tried for two years to hammer out a deal and plan to make another push after Election Day.

Each side has hostages in the upcoming fiscal fight — with the Republican clout coming from the need for a debt ceiling increase and the looming cuts in domestic spending, and Democrats’ from a massive tax hike and defense cuts.

If Obama is re-elected, Republicans won’t be able to block a tax hike unless they cut a deal. And if they don’t come to the table, everyone will take a hit.

If Romney wins, Democrats are not planning to allow him a honeymoon. They remember how the GOP lined up solidly against Obama from Day One. Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week vowed to block Romney’s agenda.

And if the 2012 elections do produce more of the partisan standoff that marked the past four years of Obama’s administration, there’s always next cycle.

Former Tennessee Rep. Lincoln Davis, a moderate Democrat, said he does not expect many of the hard-line lawmakers to pay a political price this year at the ballot box. “But in 2014,” Davis said, “ideologues on both sides of the aisle, who are to the extremes — I think America may start realizing: This is not what we want.”

The Stakes
Congressional leaders have a lot on the line in today’s election, and they’re hoping voters will either affirm their majority leadership or change their minority status. But with the results likely to back the status quo, the challenge going forward for these four will likely be in figuring out how to find the momentum to overcome the gridlock that has bedeviled them the past two years.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), Speaker

Strictly looking at the numbers, Speaker John Boehner has the least to worry about among Congressional leaders.

With a 50-seat majority and tough House races breaking the GOP’s way, the Ohio Republican is all but assured the gavel next year.

But there is more to control than just having more Members than the other party. Time and again in the 112th Congress, Boehner encountered opposition from conservatives in his own party who stymied big legislation that he wanted to bring to the floor. The 113th Congress will likely offer no change.

To be sure, Boehner would be helped by a Romney administration. But no matter who is president, House conservatives will likely continue to push for legislation that is more extreme than what leadership wants.

Boehner’s majority next year will be absent some key GOP moderates, such as his home-state colleague Steven LaTourette, and that means the margin of error in his whip count will be narrower.

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Election Day Forecast

Election Day weather doesn’t look to be much of a factor in many House and Senate races this cycle, although the fallout from Hurricane Sandy will no doubt hurt turnout in the Northeast.

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