“Having done this for more than 40 years in some form, shape or fashion, I’ve never seen it like it is today. We’re in unchartered waters.”
That’s how Larry Combest views today’s political landscape. Combest, former chair of the House Ag Committee, is now a political analyst and lobbyist headquartered in Lubbock, TX. And his analysis of the political landscape indicates that a lot of politicians are very, very nervous.
That’s because voters are giving politicians, and the political process, a level of scrutiny never before seen. “Congress will be under more scrutiny since the election of 2010 through the 2012 cycle than they have ever been before,” Combest told members of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association at the group’s fall meeting recently in Lubbock.
That’s saying something, given the level of voter discontent leading up to the 2010 mid-term elections. That election resulted in an historic turnover in the House of Representatives, where Republicans picked up 80-some seats. “We had a turnover in ’94 that changed the majority in the House,” Combest says. It also changed the balance of power in the lower chamber for the first time in 40 years. The seismic impact of the 2010 turnover was even bigger, he says.
“Not only do you have 80-something new members of the House of Representatives who are pretty beholden to their voters, you also have some more senior members, people who have been there for a significant period of time, who are looking over their shoulder more than they ever have before for fear of a potential primary opponent.”
And that’s just on the Republican side. The Democrats have their own set of concerns. A third of the Senate comes up for re-election every two years. For the 2012 election, there are nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans (22 to 9) who will have to justify their continued existence to voters. “And what we’re beginning to see, particularly those 22 Democrats, are going to try to distance themselves from Obama.”
That’s because two recent elections clearly indicated the mood of the American voter. “The election of Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey and the congressional election to replace Anthony Weiner in New York, those are some seriously strong liberal areas. And the liberals lost.”
Then there’s concern, particularly by those 22 Democratic senators up for re-election, about how President Obama will respond. “His political advisors are probably going to tell him, ‘stay with your base,’” Combest says. “If he stays with his base, pushes more government regulation, more government involvement and more taxes, it will further alienate him from those members who are up for re-election and from the American mainstream.”
Combest says there’s little doubt that Republicans are going to at least pick up some Senate seats in 2012. “And there are some political analysts who will tell you there is a zero chance the Democrats will maintain the majority in the Senate.”