America should prepare itself for a continuous onslaught of “Democrats Will Take Back Congress” articles in the next seven and a half months. TIME magazine published one on Sunday entitled “Republicans on the Run.” In it, the authors proudly proclaimed: “In recent weeks, a startling realization has begun to take hold: if the elections were held today, top strategists of both parties say privately, the Republicans would probably lose the 15 seats they need to keep control of the House of Representatives and could come within a seat or two of losing the Senate as well.”
Now, the word “privately” was emphasized by me to make a point that becomes quite clear in the article: TIME couldn’t find any top strategists from either party to make this claim publicly. Instead, what TIME did was issue a bold prediction while neglecting to provide the reader any statistical evidence as to the likelihood of it coming true.
Alas, if facts were actually important to the article’s authors rather than idle speculation, they could have either questioned top political strategist Charlie Cook, or referred to an article he coincidentally wrote on this very subject in Saturday’s National Journal: “Despite national political trends indicating that the GOP is in serious trouble, a race-by-race ‘micro’ analysis suggests that Democrats cannot easily seize control of the House or the Senate this fall.”
Unlike TIME, Cook, who is considered to be non-partisan, actually used arithmetic and simple logic to analyze the current political landscape. How refreshing:
“In the Senate, Democrats need a net gain of six seats. Republicans are truly fortunate to have only one senator retiring, Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Although Democratic Rep. Harold Ford is a talented candidate, he will have his work cut out for him against the winner of a competitive three-way August GOP primary for Frist's seat. The South has become a GOP stronghold. In 2004, Democrats went 0 for 5 in attempting to hold open Senate seats in that region.”
What does this mean as far as Cook was concerned? “Democrats need to win in Tennessee and knock off five GOP incumbents. Only five look truly vulnerable: Conrad Burns of Montana, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Jim Talent of Missouri.”
As such, Cook summarized the Senate situation as follows:
“So Democrats have to run the table by defeating all of the most vulnerable Republicans while holding all of their own seats, including in Minnesota, where their incumbent is retiring, and in Washington state, where Sen. Maria Cantwell faces a very strong challenger.
“They also need to hang on to somewhat more secure open seats in Maryland and Vermont, as well as 14 other incumbents. Although not impossible in a favorable political climate, this is a very tall order.”
Tall order? Clearly, that’s not the view TIME presented to its readers. As for the other Congressional chamber:
“In the House, where Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats, only about three dozen are truly in play today. So far, 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats have announced their retirements. Ten of those Republicans serve in safe GOP districts, where Democrats stand little chance of winning. Meanwhile, despite their Herculean efforts, Democratic recruiters have enticed few first-tier challengers into running this year.
“Instead, the party has an abundance of second- and third-tier candidates who could never prevail on their own and would need a hurricane-force wind at their backs to cross the finish line first. (Democrats last had a strong political wind propelling them in 1982--and before that in 1974.) So, as with the Senate, Democrats need to win every truly competitive House race.”
To be fair, Cook did say that it’s possible for the Democrats to win both chambers. However, unlike TIME, he quantified the likelihood:
“In four out of five elections, the micro analysis proves accurate. But in about one out of five, it doesn't. Will this year be one of those exceptions?”
By contrast, TIME did no real analysis of the actual likelihood of a Congressional takeover by the Democrats in November. Instead, it practically represented itself as a Democrat pollster stumping for an outcome rather than reporting to its readers the real possibility of the event they desire actually coming to fruition.
To strengthen its point, TIME also misrepresented the current finances of the parties: “On the fund-raising front, Democrats have been surprisingly competitive with the Republicans. In a rare feat for the party, the Democratic senatorial campaign committee has outraised its Republican counterpart.”
Actually, this is not a rare feat at all. Quite the contrary, according to the Federal Election Commission, this has been the case in off-years since 2001. As can be seen by the following FEC PDF, the last time Senate Republicans raised more funds in an off-year than the Democrats was 1999.
In addition, TIME failed to point out to its readers how much of this current disparity might be related to the fund-raising activities of one senator, namely Hillary Clinton (D-NY). As the FEC pointed out in a February 28, 2006 memorandum: “Individual Senate campaigns can also be unusually large and effect overall totals, particularly early in the campaign year. In 2005, for example, Hillary Clinton of NY raised $21.4 million, more than twice the total raised by the next largest campaign (Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at $10.2 million).”As a result, the TIME authors weren’t reporting the news with this article, but, instead, were manufacturing it.