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Rudin: Tuesday's GOP Win Feels Like Its Biggest Ever


The election on Tuesday sent a raft of new Republicans to Congress. The GOP will now control both houses by a healthy majority. The House will be more Republican than it's been since before the Great Depression - that's the one in 1929 - and Republicans take over the Senate with Kentucky's Mitch McConnell as their next leader, finally in the job that he's wanted for years. Victories for the Grand Old Party and state legislatures and in governorships sealed the deal. Except for the White House, Republicans are just about in charge.

Our old friend Ken Rudin knows all about elections, distant and recent. He's here with us. Welcome.

KEN RUDIN: Friend. I don't know about old friend, but hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter). Now this is a big, big Republican win. Is it the biggest?

RUDIN: It's pretty big. I mean, if you look at numbers it may not rival what we saw in 2010 when the House Republicans picked up 63 House seats, but in some sense, it seems bigger. I mean, they've got a net game of seven seats in the Senate. They could get one more in Alaska and perhaps another one in the Louisiana runoff so that's a net gain of nine. In the House, you know, you're absolutely right - it'll be the biggest majority since the 1928 election. Of course, that majority was lost in 1930 because of the Depression so it didn't last long. Then you also have the governorships, a lot of unexpected pickups, even unexpected re-elections, where Republican incumbents were thought to be in trouble.

WERTHEIMER: In the early days we heard predictions that the Republicans ought to be able to take over the Senate, as they have done, but does this go beyond the normal slump the for the party in power in a midterm election? Does it go beyond the sixth year of a president's time in office?

RUDIN: Well, again we always have to go back to the numbers. The Republicans lost 49 House seats in the Eisenhower six-year itch of 1958. Democrats lost 47 House seats in the Lyndon Johnson six-year itch in 1966, but again, this just feels bigger.

WERTHEIMER: So looking ahead, don't the Republicans have a lot of exposure in the Senate in 2016?

RUDIN: Well, they absolutely do. I can't believe we're looking at 2016 again. We haven't even finished talking about 2014, but having said that, in 2016 there are 34 Senate seats up. Twenty-four of them are held by Republicans so on paper the Republicans seem to be much more jeopardy of losing their majority but a lot depends on the political mood in two years. I mean, if President Obama's numbers are as bad as they are now, the Republicans certainly will benefit. If the Republican Congress is seen as obstructionist or too conservative, that could help the Democrats, too.

WERTHEIMER: And if one of the presidential candidates takes off, presumably that would sway the election one way or the other?

RUDIN: There's no question. I mean, look at the 2006 midterm elections. Not only was it a great year for the Democrats - Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the House - but George Bush was so toxic and the Republicans lost both houses in 2006 and Bush's numbers never rebounded. They stayed low and he became a drag on the Republican ticket in 2008. Either Obama could be like Bush in 2006, or he could be like Ronald Reagan. Even though the Republicans took a hit when Reagan was president, he was still popular enough to help George H. W. Bush succeed him in the 1988 presidential elections.

WERTHEIMER: Ken Rudin is host of the Political Junkie radio program. Ken, it's wonderful to talk to you.

RUDIN: Linda, thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.