TOPICS > Politics

U.S. House Race Results Lacked Surprise, But May Have Psychological Impact

November 20, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Though Democrats won a net gain of eight U.S. House seats during the 2012 elections, Republicans maintained their majority control and, for the most part, the status quo. Judy Woodruff talks to Rothenberg Political Report's Nathan Gonzales about why the results of U.S. House seat bids lacked major surprises and drama.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to politics. Two weeks after Election Day, a disputed congressional contest in Florida was settled this morning, when Tea Party member Allen West of Florida said he wouldn’t contest the results. West was trailing Democrat Patrick Murphy by fewer than 2,000 votes. The seat will add to the Democrats’ numbers, although Republicans still hold the majority.

Here to walk us through how each party fared is Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg Political Report, and he’s also a contributor to Roll Call.

Nathan, good to see you again.

NATHAN GONZALES, The Rothenberg Political Report: Good to see you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, months ago, there were some Democrats who were talking about, maybe we’re going to retake the majority in the House. But then, as you got closer to the election, those expectations were really lowered. How is it turning out?

NATHAN GONZALES: Well, it looks like Democrats are going to have a net gain of eight seats. There is the one outstanding race in North Carolina with Congressman Mike McIntyre that is going to a recount. But he’s ahead. And I think it’s likely that he will stay. So, there will be a net gain of eight seats, which is far short of the 25 that they needed to get back to the majority.

But when you look at some of the closest races, these last eight or nine races that were the closest and the latest to be decided, they all broke toward the Democrats.

And it is really is the difference between an OK night for Democrats gaining seats and almost a disastrous night for Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how do you explain it? Is there commonality among these last races, these really close ones that were called after the election?

NATHAN GONZALES: I don’t think there’s one issue among the closest races where you could say this was on Social Security or it was on Medicare.

But when you look at our pure tossup races that we had going into Election Day, a majority of them were in three key areas. They were in Illinois, California, and New England. And those are all places where the president did very well.

And I think that even though going into Election Day those were close races, that the undecideds were President Obama voters. And they also broke for the Democratic congressional candidate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, in a way, there was maybe some coattails on the part of the president?

NATHAN GONZALES: In those states where — there weren’t swing states, the races where — places where the president did well. And I think Democratic candidates benefited.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As you look at the country overall, Nathan, is there a trend, is there a story to be told about who did a better job, which party or the other did a better job of targeting these races?

NATHAN GONZALES: I think some of it is geographic, and that you had Democrats strengthening in Democratic states and Democratic regions such as New England, where there’s no longer — there’s no House Republicans in New England right now going into next year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At all?

NATHAN GONZALES: At all. There’s Sen. Snowe, who is kind of holding down the fort there.

But — and then you saw Republicans strengthening their grip on the South. There were some key races that went Republican in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina that Republicans took over from moderate to conservative Democrats. And those are going to be very tough for Democrats to get back in future elections.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You have also said that there really weren’t that many surprises. And you usually expect some surprises. How do you account for that? I mean, what explains that?

NATHAN GONZALES: Well, we were — I was surprised that there were no surprises because we saw it in the primaries. We saw members that didn’t take the races seriously. They weren’t running a good campaign.

And I assumed that out of the hundreds of members running, someone was going to be asleep at the wheel.

But I think the parties probably did a good job of polling a little bit deeper into districts that we weren’t really talking about to try to snuff out any potential surprises before they really bubbled up to be real problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned polling. You were telling us earlier that there’s a lot of conversation right now about the polling on the part of Republicans in many of these House races. What are people looking at here?

NATHAN GONZALES: Well, there’s been a lot of attention on the Republican polling in the presidential races and some of the Senate races. But they had some similar problems in House races.

And I think what happened is that we have to remember, in 2010, Republican pollsters were getting numbers out of the field that were very Republican. They looked like outliers compared to the public and Democratic numbers. And they were right in 2010. So, when we come to 2010, Republican pollsters were getting numbers that looked a little bit too Republican.

And they — I think, instead of throwing those numbers out, they said, well, maybe — we look like outliers, but maybe we’re right once again. And there was just a failure to understand what electorate was going to come out in a presidential year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That there were going to be more folks who were ready to vote more Democratic.

NATHAN GONZALES: I don’t think Republicans believed that 2012 was going to look anything like 2008. And it ended up looking pretty similar.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Nathan, with the House, a pickup of eight, we believe, a net pickup of eight for the Democrats, does that change things legislatively, does it change things psychologically in the House?

NATHAN GONZALES: Functionally, it doesn’t change a lot.

But, psychologically, I think it does have an impact, because in the competitive races, the 68 competitive races, in almost every one of them, the top Democratic attack was on the Paul Ryan budget. It was on Social Security and on Medicare. And now what we have is dozens of Republicans who weathered those attacks and they came out on top.

And so when they come to a fiscal cliff negotiation, they’re saying why should we compromise when you attacked us on the Paul Ryan budget and we’re still standing? Voters voted for us.

And so I think it’s less likely that we’re going to see kind of a grand compromise because both sides are very entrenched.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even with that small pickup of Democrats in the House and even though the presidential vote was bigger than — I looked it up somewhere — bigger than the overall House Republican vote?

NATHAN GONZALES: Right. I mean, that’s — both camps, you know, believe they…

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will have an argument, right.

NATHAN GONZALES: And I think when it comes to the — there’s all sorts of discussion on the fiscal cliff.

But President Obama and Speaker Boehner are probably — are more willing to compromise, but their caucuses and their party are very entrenched. And I don’t think we know what’s going to happen out of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We certainly don’t.

Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg Political Report, thank you for coming back to talk to us.

NATHAN GONZALES: Thank you so much.