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Daily Howler: Do Dems face a structural disadvantage in the House? Alterman seems to say yes
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THE STATE WE’RE IN! Do Dems face a structural disadvantage in the House? Alterman seems to say yes: // link // print // previous // next //

WE’RE OFF TO HOT METAL STREET—AND BEYOND: We’re off on a mission of national import. For that reason, there will be no Friday HOWLER. We return to our labors next week—with an extended look at The Way to Win, by John Harris and Mark Halperin.

If you live in Pittsburgh, we’ll be on Hot Metal Street tomorrow at 3. Will Durst will be there too. At the IBEW Hall, where it won’t cost a cent to get in.

THE FREAK SHOW MUST END: Once a phenomenon has a name, it can be discussed—and praised, or attacked. Now that Harris and Halperin have named it—“The Freak Show”—Dems should demand that it end. Basically, this is the topic President Clinton discussed yesterday. More in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, a bit of amusement last night, from the lower end of the Freak Show. Our analysts shared low, mordant chuckles when Nina Easton showed the world how you get to replace Ceci Connolly as a back-up Fox News “all-star.” On Special Report, the pundits discussed—for no known earthly reason—the brawl in last Saturday’s football game between Florida International and Miami. Plainly, Easton knew the sort of thing an “all-star” is expected to say:
EASTON (10/18/06): This is a case of collegiate sports meets political correctness in the person of Donna Shalala, who also said, "We've known we can't make mistakes. We never get any breaks." She's, of course, the—in her academic career, has a very politically correct history where she got rid of the—or she instituted speech code at the University of Washington. She got rid of the ROTC Because she opposed the military's policy on gays.

And she's a very politically correct person and so what you got here was worrying about the feelings of the players rather than what's best for our kids setting standards.
We haven’t changed a word! Easton had her talking point. She ran it left, right and then up the middle.

For the record, Shalala had previously served at the University of Wisconsin. Having memorized her talking-point, Easton coughed it up on the facts.

Easton rarely has much to offer—but she always seems to know “what to say.” Last night, she went to new lengths. This is trivial “Freak Show” stuff. The more serious show? It has to end.

THE STATE WE’RE IN: Do Democrats face a “structural disadvantage” in next month’s House elections? Do we need to out-poll Republicans by seven points just to break even in the House? Last week, Paul Krugman said yes; Kevin Drum had his doubts (links below). In this new post, Eric Alterman seems to come down on Krugman’s side of the question. In response to Krugman’s recent column, he offers this passage from Hacker and Pierson’s recent book, Off Center:
HACKER/PIERSON: If Bush had received the exact same vote share in 2004 that he received in 2000 (that is, 48 percent), he still would have managed to win in 239 of the nation's 435 House districts—or almost 55 percent. He actually won 255 districts in 2004, or almost 59 percent, while winning around 51 percent of the vote (slightly higher if the calculation excludes Ralph Nader's 1 percent). In other words, House districts are now drawn so that an evenly divided country can produce surprisingly lopsided GOP victories. Indeed, the Republicans gained seats in the House in 2004 only because of Tom DeLay's redistricting scheme in Texas.
While winning 51 percent of the vote, Bush won 59 percent of congressional districts. We don’t know if that pattern will appear in November’s House elections. But unless we’re happy being Avis, Democrats should continue to pursue this discussion.

Luckily, Alterman presented a longer passage from Off Center. As Hacker and Pierson continue, they explain the structural disadvantage Democrats face in the Senate. There’s a massive PR aspect to this—one which Democratic elites have almost completely ignored:
HACKER/PIERSON (continuing directly): The mismatch between popular votes and electoral outcomes is even more striking in the Senate. Combining the last three Senate elections, Democrats have actually won two-and-a-half million more votes than Republicans. Yet they now hold only 44 seats in that 100-person chamber because Republicans dominate the less populous states that are so heavily over-represented in the Senate. As the journalist Hendrik Hertzberg notes, if one treats each senator as representing half that state's population, than the Senate's 55 Republicans currently represent 131 million people, while the 44 Democrats represent 161 million.
Question: How many voters have ever heard that “Democrats have actually won two-and-a-half million more votes than Republicans” in the last three Senate elections? (All 100 sitting senators were elected during this six-year period.) Answer: No voters have ever heard that—none at all. That’s because our modern Democratic elites don’t seem to give a flying fig about the way the their party is perceived. The fact that Dems have received the bulk of the Senate vote is an important thing for voters to hear. Instead, when cable pundits mock the Democratic Party, the hapless trolls we send out as our “spokespeople” sit and stare into air.

Again, let’s be clear: There are two separate aspects to these issues. First, there is the basic question of winning: Dems must try to repair these “structural disadvantages” to the extent that it’s possible. But second, there’s the question of optics: Democrats need to tell the world when we get the majority of votes. Krugman has now raised this issue twice. We suggest that you read Alterman’s treatment, which suggests one way to address the problem in the House. And we suggest that you help keep these topics alive. We can all be fairly sure of one thing—current Dem elites simply won’t.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Krugman has suggested that there is a disadvantage. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/11/06. After checking past data, Kevin Drum wasn’t sure. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/18/06. For ourselves, we still don’t know. We do know this, however—we Dems should puzzle this out.