Stupid Economy and Campaign Finance Analysis


After readings Bill’s post about this convetional wisdom-bucking Barron’s article predicting that the Republicans will hold onto to both Houses I decided to take a look at the same numbers that they were looking at. First let’s look at the campaign finance information since that’s how they decided to pick the winner of each individual race. Instead of looking at the numbers of every race I decided to use the National Journal’s recently released House Race Rankings. I’ve discounted Democratic seats that they list because we’re talking about the Republican Party holding off a Democratic challenge and so I looked the defensive position of the majority party. This is based data released by the FEC on October 20, 2006 and compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In the National Journal’s top 30 races to watch (all seats held currently by Republicans) there is an average Republican advantage of $423,868 money raised. However, there are eleven races where the Democrat leads in money raised. There are six races where the Republican has more than $1 million more than their opponent, one race where that total exceeds $2 million, and yet one more race where the total is above $3 million. The Democratic advantages are in AZ-08, FL-16, IL-06, IN-08, IA-01, MN-06, NY-24, OH-18, PA-07, TX-22, and WI-08. Nine out of eleven of these races are open seat races where a Republican is retiring (or has resigned under a cloud of corruption). If we go with Jay Cost’s analysis of the Barron’s article — "A direct dollar-to-dollar evaluation is probably more appropriate in open seat elections, and so they will make a genuine theoretical "purchase" there" — than these nine seats will flip to the Democrats.

The second 30 races in the National Journal rankings, of which I have only looked at the 24 held by the GOP, show a stronger financial situation for the Republicans. Republicans in these races hold an average money raised advantage of $774,743. Only two Democrats in this group hold a financial advantage over the incumbent and one of those challengers’ apparent financial advantage was picked apart by Jay Cost in his analysis of the Barron’s article. Ten of the 24 Republicans hold a financial advantage of over $1 million while one hold a $2 million advantage. Many of these races have shown promising polling for the Democrats so it is probably the monetary advantage that these incumbents hold that keeps prognosticators like the National Journal from moving some of them up. In total, if we go by the Barron’s predictive model, which Cost at Real Clear Politics pretty much destroys, than 13 Democrats will win in currently GOP districts. There will be a couple of Democratic losses, Melissa Bean in Illinois and Jim Marshall in Georgia, according to Barron’s model so that makes for a gain of 11 seats for the Dems.

But the Barron’s article also mentions the economy as Bill wisely pointed out. According to many the economy is doing great; the stock market is rising, gas prices are falling, everything’s going well. Right? Well, not exactly. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that only 43% of Americans describe the economy as excellent or good compared with 57% who call it not good or poor. Only 17% think that the economy is getting better while 45% believe it is getting worse. However, people are satisfied with their personal situation by a 59%-41% margin. But these numbers don’t really tell the whole story. This story by McClatchy Newspapers looks at Ohio as a bellweather for the elections and it contains a lot of anecdotes about people’s economic situation.

Columbus, the capital, is in the center, divided politically and almost alone in doing well economically. The rest of the state is racked by economic pain as Detroit’s "Big Three" automakers retrench and manufacturing jobs evaporate – another 34,000 in the past year, according to the Ohio Manufacturers Directory.

"Given what’s happened here, I’ll probably go Democrat," said Darrell Fowler, 48. Previously he voted for Bush and Republicans. He works at the soon-to-be-closed Ford transmission plant in Batavia, east of Cincinnati.

Among the plant’s remaining 1,400 employees is Fowler’s fiancee, Melissa Blankenship, 39, a Democrat who said she’s very motivated to vote this year. The couple, both of whom have children, said they could be out of work by year’s end.

Bill Combs, a 43-year-old electrical technician and divorced father from Batavia, voted Republican for a decade and twice backed Bush. He said that he figured the GOP’s commitment to keeping corporate America healthy would translate to job security at the paper company where he worked.

But Combs was laid off late last year when his company downsized at home and looked overseas. His new job at a plastics plant came with a $6-an-hour pay cut, no pension and a shaky future. He drives a Ford pickup, expensive to fuel, because he wanted to buy American, but the Ford plant is closing anyway, and Combs worries that that will hurt the local tax base, public schools and the housing market.

He plans to vote for Democrats this year. And once his daughter is grown, he plans to leave Ohio.

"I’m not gaining anything in this world," he said, filling his truck with gas. "I don’t have a good outlook for ever doing anything but surviving."

In many Northern and midwestern states this is the sense of the economy to the average voter. They aren’t admiring the height of the Dow Jones or wowed low unemployment levels, considering that unemployment numbers do not factor in those who have given up looking for jobs. These areas are hurting and guess what, they’re where this year’s congressional majority is going to be decided. There are three states that are bound to provide a large portion of any Democratic gains this year and they are Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania. The seats in New York that are considered in play are all in the upstate region that has been decimated by manufacturing job losses (just look at the economic message that Jack Davis has been running on in Tom Reynolds’ district). Currently there are six New York seats in play. Pennsylvania holds a potential of five seats which include seats in both the Philadelphia suburbs and those further out into the interior of the state. And Ohio contains up to five seats that are threatened by Democratic challengers. We can also look at the districts of Charles Taylor and Robin Hayes in North Carolina where manufacturing jobs have been fleeing as fast as they can.

When it comes down to it the Barron’s prediction doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. I’ve only touched on the two issues which they decided to focus on and Jay Cost gives the best refutation of the campaign finance angle. But no one, especially Barron’s, seems to mention the real reason why this election could be so devastating to the congressional GOP majority. It’s the war, stupid. (Barron’s mentions the word "Iraq" three times in the article.) When was the last midterm election that had this country mired in a deeply unpopular conflict, the economy was not seen positively by most Americans, and Washington was awash with scandal? Let’s just say that it didn’t end well for that President’s party then, and it probably won’t now.