Stuart Rothenberg '70
Editor, The Rothenberg Political Report
"What's most noteworthy about this election politically is how evenly divided the country is between Republicans and Democrats—supporters of the president and opponents of the president.
No matter who wins the White House, and indeed no matter the outcome in the fight for the House and the Senate, I think this rough parity is likely to continue in 2005 and maybe 2006.
Actually I would say, to me, one of the most interesting things about who wins or loses the White House in 2004 is the impact it will have on 2006 and 2008. Because if Bush wins, it's a huge boost to Senator Clinton's ambitions to run in 2008. If John Kerry wins, then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton may have to get used to being a U.S. senator because she isn't going to go any further.
You only have a few really big political figures at any time, and she's new to the political scene as an elected official, but still she's somebody who creates so much buzz, everybody talks about her, everybody's interested in what she wants to do. And they either like her or they hate her, much like the president and much like her husband.
This presidential election affects her future. For some Republicans that's more important than anything else. There's a lot of inside buzz—talk about it on the Hill and in political circles. I don't know if people in the real world are thinking about that.
But then there's another thing. If the president is re-elected and the Republicans maintain control of Congress, they're headed for a very, very difficult election in 2006 because there's some pent-up frustration on the Republican side about the president's legislative agenda and willingness to spend, spend, spend—creating a deficit. If Bush wins and the Republicans maintain control of both houses of Congress, I think in the next couple of years there will be a build-up of frustration on the Republican side and the conservative side. Why is a conservative Republican allowing government to grow in the areas of education and overall spending and transportation spending? So 2006 could be a problem for the Republicans.
If, on the other hand, John Kerry were to win in November, it will almost guarantee that Republicans will hold Congress for the rest of the decade, because he will get the blame for bloating government and for the frustration that is out there about government. People are not entirely happy about the direction of the country. If we have an economic boom and we can get out of Iraq, maybe they'll be happy.
So you have this great irony. The party that does well in 2004 is likely to have big problems in 2006 and 2008, and the party that loses in the near term may actually win over a somewhat longer term. Be careful what you wish for. That's my bottom line on 2004.
John Kerry, given the constituency groups in the Democratic Party, is going to have a hard time balancing the budget unless there is a huge economic boom, which is possible. But I think we're seeing that events here are very important, both in affecting who is going to win in 2004 and what the longer range political outlook is. . . .
All the focus is on short-term events. We have a political environment now that has been poisoned by the Clinton years and the Bush years. When I say poisoned I mean creating a polarization on Capital Hill and throughout the country that is unprecedented. We have these 24-hour news channels where we dissect everything that these politicians do and say at every moment. They're constantly under a microscope and it creates an environment where it's kind of hard for them to succeed, and if they do, it's often by dumb luck."