Political outlook: more gridlock

By Joe Beck

WINCHESTER — Larry Sabato, the highly visible political pundit from the University of Virginia, brought a mixed message Wednesday for Democrats and Republicans pondering elections in 2014 and beyond.

Republicans could take heart from Sabato’s agreement with most other political soothsayers that the GOP will solidify its hold on the House of Representatives and has a good chance of wresting control of the Senate from Democrats.

Democrats may find the prospect of losing the Senate easier to take when they consider that Republicans will find it hard or impossible to enact any significant legislation, even with help from the GOP-dominated House, Sabato said.

Sabato spoke before more than 250 regional business leaders at the sixth annual Museum of the Shenandoah Valley Business Forum Luncheon.

Republicans control the House, 234-201, and Sabato predicted they will add another six to 10 seats to their margin when the votes are counted on Nov. 4.

Sabato operates a website at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics that provides forecasts and analysis of presidential, congressional and gubernatorial elections throughout the nation. It recorded a 97 percent accuracy rating, including Electoral College projections, in the 2012 election.

Sabato’s website, dubbed the Crystal Ball, rates Del. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, a slight favorite over Democrat John Foust, also of McLean, in the closely watched campaign to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Vienna, in the 10th District.

“It’s not a runaway, but it leans Republican,” Sabato said of the district’s voting history and patterns.

Sabato said Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner has his race against Republican Ed Gillespie well in hand, barring an unexpected national surge for Republican candidates in the weeks before the election.

“Warner is the clear leader,” Sabato said in an interview, adding that Warner is unlikely to win with the big percentage of the vote he has racked up in past races.

“He’ll be looking to win by 55-45,” Sabato said of Warner. “It’s a much more competitive year.”

Democrats hold a 55-45 margin in U.S. Senate seats, but several factors outside their control — unexpected retirements of longtime incumbents, more Democrats than Republicans up for re-election and the historical tendency of voters to turn against the party in control of the White House during mid-term elections — are boosting Republican chances of gaining the six seats needed for a majority, Sabato said.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball predicts a five to eight seat gain for Republicans in the Senate, but he said Democrats still have President Obama standing between congressional Republicans and any legislation they pass.

“Fifty-one votes doesn’t guarantee you much of anything, except nominal control of the Senate and committee chairs,” Sabato said.

Republican control of both houses of Congress is likely to bring more of the same gridlock that has been the hallmark of the last four years in Washington. Obama will rely on vetoes and executive orders to thwart the Republicans and both sides will spend a lot of time positioning themselves for the 2016 presidential election, Sabato said.

Sabato’s presentation included a rueful recounting of voter apathy and ignorance illustrated by a recent segment on a late night TV show in which the host showed a picture of Vice President Joseph Biden to randomly chosen people in the street.

“Not one single person off the street recognized the vice president of the United States,” Sabato said. “You worry about the electorate. You worry about the lack of voter education.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com