AAOS Now

Published 6/1/2012
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Madeleine Lovette

What’s “Cook”-ing in Races across the Country?

Council on Advocacy gets nonpartisan report on November elections

During the most recent Council on Advocacy (COA) meeting, David Wasserman, House editor and political analyst for the Cook Political Report, an independent, nonpartisan online newsletter, presented his projections for the 2012 Presidential and Congressional races. A nationally recognized political analyst, Mr. Wasserman has appeared on several national news shows and has provided election night commentary since 2008. He also serves as an associate editor of National Journal magazine.

The Presidential race
According to Mr. Wasserman, the 2012 presidential race will be incredibly close. He highlighted five key factors that he believes will influence voters’ decisions on Election Day: the unemployment rate, the price of gas, the state of international politics, the “contrast” between the candidates, and the possibility of a third-party candidate.

“The magic number, in my opinion, is 8 percent,” said Mr. Wasserman, in discussing the unemployment situation. “If unemployment rates are trending toward or below that magic number, President Obama has a real chance of achieving a second term.”

Mr. Wasserman considers the price of gas to be another determining factor in the presidential race. He believes that high gas prices could “derail President Obama’s narrative of a recovering economy.”

The state of international politics is number three on Mr. Wasserman’s watch list. “Foreign policy is one of Mr. Obama’s strongest advantages,” he said. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released in April, Mr. Obama holds a 17 percent lead over Republican candidate Mitt Romney on international affairs. As a result, if international affairs are among voters’ top concerns in the fall, Mr. Obama will have an advantage over Mr. Romney.

According to Mr. Wasserman, the fourth item to watch this fall will be whether Mr. Obama can paint the contest between him and Mr. Romney as a “choice vote” between two types of liberals. To explain, Romney attended Harvard, passed a miniature version of the Affordable Care Act, and has altered his position on key issues numerous times during his political career. If Democrats can portray Mr. Romney as an elite, flip-flopping Massachusetts liberal like former Presidential candidate John Kerry, Mr. Wasserman believes that Mr. Obama will likely come out on top.

A possible third-party presence could also have an impact on the presidential race. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll showed Mr. Romney beating Mr. Obama by 5 percent if Rep. Ron Paul entered the race as a third-party candidate. This suggests that, despite Mr. Paul’s being a Republican, he would take more votes away from President Obama than he would from Mr. Romney.

Mr. Wasserman also noted that Mr. Romney’s vice presidential nominee could have an impact on the race, but that he expects Mr. Romney to make the safest, “do-no-harm” pick as possible.

The House
Mr. Wasserman believes that the 2012 House races will yield wins and losses for both parties—unlike the past three election cycles, when a single party dominated the election. He attributes this change to a disillusioned electorate.

“I believe that this election will be more akin to a whirlwind than to the wave elections we’ve recently seen,” he said. “Independents are angry with both parties and there is a push to defeat incumbents.” Because Republicans hold the majority of seats in the House, this anti-incumbent movement presents more of a threat for Republican incumbents than for their Democratic counterparts.

Nevertheless, Mr. Wasserman believes that House Republicans still hold a slight advantage in this year’s election. The recent Republican-controlled redistricting process enabled them to redraw district lines to make incumbent Democrats more vulnerable. Thus, according to Mr. Wasserman, even though the 2010 Republican edge is waning and the anti-incumbent movement is growing, challenging races for Democrats in newly redrawn districts will make it difficult for them to retake the House majority in 2012.

The Senate
Mr. Wasserman also gave Council members insight into the potential for a Republicant take-over in the Senate this year. To overtake the current Democratic majority, Republicans only need to win four more Senate seats. Republicans also have fewer seats to defend, enabling them to concentrate on key races; just 10 Republican senators are up for re-election, versus 21 Democratic senators. In addition six Democratic senators are planning to retire, compared to just three Republicans. Thus, Democrats face more election challenges than the Republicans do (
Fig. 1).

In addition to encouraging political math, Mr. Wasserman believes Republicans have the opportunity to oust several vulnerable Democrats, including Senators Jon Tester (Mont.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), and Sherrod Brown (Ohio).

Despite these advantages, Mr. Wasserman does not believe that a Republican majority is guaranteed. He pointed to several Republican seats that could be snatched by Democrats, including the seat of left-leaning Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and the seats of Senators Dean Heller and Scott Brown, who face tough elections in Nevada and Massachusetts respectively. This potential “seat swap” means that control of the Senate is a toss-up.

For more information about the Cook Political Report visit http://cookpolitical.com/

Madeleine Lovette is the communications specialist in the AAOS office of government relations; she can be reached at lovette@aaos.org