|Man Without Qualities|
Wednesday, November 06, 2002
The word "historic" is being bandied about rather freely now with respect to the election results. For example, the New York Times uses it in an article that also includes this passage:
The party that controls the White House almost invariably loses House seats in off-year elections. Democrats broke that trend when Roosevelt was president in 1934, and when Bill Clinton was in the White House in 1998. But the Republicans have never gained seats in the House when a Republican was president.
Similarly, the party that controls the White House generally loses seats in the Senate, with a handful of exceptions, including 1962 under Kennedy and 1970 under Nixon.
But the election results seem more "historic" than this kind of statement admits.
In fact, the above passage addresses only the question of the party in the White House gaining seats in Congress - which is rare eough to be called "historic."
BUT I CAN THINK OF NO OTHER EXAMPLE EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THIS COUNTRY IN WHICH THE PARTY IN THE WHITE HOUSE CAPTURED A HOUSE OF CONGRESS IN A MID TERM ELECTION. THAT MAY BE MORE THAN "HISTORIC" - THAT MAY BE A FIRST. It certainly didn't happen in 1934, 1962, 1970 or 1998.
It is possible such a thing happened in the 19th Century - my resources are not that complete. I believe that a professional historian should check this out.
UPDATE: Claudia Rosette writes: It was also the first time since the Civil War that the president's party wrested a majority of Senate seats away from the other party in an off-year election.
That's interesting, but other aspects of the Civil War rather overshadow the election. After all, many States simply left the Union - it's not really the election that caused the balance to tip. It would be interesting to know if the party in the White House had taken a house of Congress in a midterm election at any time before the Civil War.
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