It's hard to overstate the impact on the Democrats of losing control of the House. Through all the bad times—the Nixon years, the Reagan years—the House had remained the foundation of the Democratic empire. Then, suddenly, in 1994 it was gone. The Democrats took some comfort from their party's 1998 midterm gains and the subsequent fall of Newt Gingrich. But the barbarians retained control of the temple. For the Democrats to win back the House had to have been one of Clinton's highest priorities in last year's election. But the Republicans held on.
Democrats reach 50-year low in the U.S. Senate. From 1997 to 2000 the Democrats held forty-five Senate seats. Not since 1948 have they been so weak in the Senate. When Clinton was first elected, his party had a solid majority of fifty-seven Senate seats. In the 1994 catastrophe the number dropped to forty-seven. Last year's election brought the party back to parity with the Republicans. But Senate majorities in the range of fifty-four to sixty-eight seats, such as the Democrats enjoyed in the 1960s and 1970s, now seem beyond reach.
The country is likely to see excruciatingly narrow majorities in the House and the Senate over the next ten years, with nominal control shifting back and forth. The days of seemingly permanent Democratic sovereignty over Congress ended with the Clinton presidency.
Number of Democratic governors drops below 20 for the first time since 1970. The 1994 election was just as big a disaster for Democrats at the state level as at the federal level. In 1993 Democratic governors outnumbered Republicans by thirty to eighteen, with two independents. After the 1994 election the numbers flipped: thirty Republicans and nineteen Democrats. The 2001 lineup is virtually the same: twenty-nine Republicans and nineteen Democrats. Eight of the ten largest states now have Republican governors—all but California and Georgia.
Democrats control the smallest number of state legislatures in nearly 50 years. Only seventeen states now have Democrat-controlled legislatures. We have to go back to 1952 to find Democratic power at a lower ebb in state government. Just ten years ago Democratic legislatures outnumbered Republican legislatures by thirty to six, with divided control in thirteen. In 2001 the lineup is seventeen Democratic to sixteen Republican, with divided control in another sixteen states.
The Democrats' current weakness at the state level is especially damaging to them because state legislatures will dominate next year's redistricting. They will draw the lines to ensure an advantage for one party or the other in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the state legislatures. Any Democratic weakness now is likely to be locked in for the next decade.
The Clinton years have, in effect, equalized the strength of the two parties—a fact made painfully clear by the 2000 presidential vote. Under Clinton the Republicans made gains unmatched even during the Reagan era—and they held on to them.
The disintegration of the nation's Democratic majority began during the Nixon era. Clinton presided over that majority's demise. Where does this leave the nation? Closely divided in presidential politics, in congressional politics, and in state politics, with sharper regional divisions and bitter partisan warfare. Not a lovely legacy.
William Schneider, a contributing editor of The Atlantic, is the senior political analyst for CNN.
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