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Dems' Chances in '06 Senate Races (Part II) or Pundits vs. 'Six-Year Itch'

Ronald Brownstein has a sobering column in today’s LA Times trashing Dem hopes for winning back control of the Senate in ’06. Brownstein crunches numbers to smithereens to prove an obvious point: The Dems face huge obstacles in winning the required 7 Senate seats, and he just doesn’t see it happening. Brownstein has some corroboration from ace political seer Charlie Cook, who periodically rates both parties’ chances in upcomming elections on his website. Cook sees Dems breaking even or losing as many as two Senate seats at this point, although his future ratings may bring better news for Dems. But we like what Cook wrote back in 1997:

That second-term, midterm election phenomenon, first dubbed the "six-year itch" by political theorist Kevin Phillips, is not a foregone conclusion, but a very strong tendency does exist for the president's party to take a bath in such years. Over the last five six-year itch elections, the party holding the White House has lost an average of 44 House seats: 47 in 1966, 48 in both 1958 and 1974, and 71 in 1938. The one such election that did not produce big losses was 1986, when Republicans lost just five House seats. In the Senate, the average loss is seven seats: four in 1966, five in 1974, six in 1938, eight in 1986 and 13 in 1958. The common denominator in each of the years that saw substantial House losses was severe economic trouble…In 1986, the exception to the rule, there were no major economic problems around the time of the election. The lesson is that such debacles are not inevitable, but that it's important to keep in mind that bad things usually happen to a president's party halfway through his second term. As a result, we will be watching for each of the factors that in past six-year itch elections have triggered disastrous results for the president's party: the economy, scandal, foreign policy crises or unique political circumstances.

Kinda like those historical overviews sometimes. For another (admittedly) optimistic take, check out our May 15 post.