In light of the Massachusetts Senate elections, which Republican Scott Brown won by a narrow but clear margin, I have been comparing the 1994 congressional elections to those coming up this year. In particular, I have been conversing with some old friends – people who were actually there in ’94, reading the newspapers and watching the news.
These conversations eventually came to the subject of two intriguing factors that were apparently quite important in 1994 but almost totally absent today.
The first involved the length of Democratic dominance in Congress. In 1994, the Democratic Party had controlled the institution for forty years with an alliance of Southern representatives and the party’s modern strongholds. This long stay-in-power had built a reputation for corruption and ethnics problems; scandals worsened the perception. Apparently, the media talked almost continuously about this subject. The possibility of a Republican-controlled House, for the first time in two generations, gripped the Beltway.
The second involved the growing power of the Congressional Black Caucus. Since the advent of the Civil Rights movement, increasing numbers of black representatives had been elected to the House. Once elected, these congressman enjoyed practically life-long terms, given the black population’s heavily Democratic lean.
Eventually, due to seniority, black representatives began taking important positions on committees (something that is still the case today). By 1994, the public started taking notice and Republicans began airing the issue – adding the insinuation of unseemliness. My friends report that the media also talked quite a bit about the strong influence wielded by the Congressional Black Caucus.
Today, there is practically no discussion over these two subjects. Democrats have only controlled the House for four years this time. The issue of the Congressional Black Caucus has also dissipated as racial appeals have become less powerful, perhaps best symbolized by the election of President Barack Obama.
This does not mean, of course, that Democrats will maintain control of the House in November. If congressional elections were held today – taking into account the Massachusetts result – a Republican take-over would constitute a very likely possibility. As long as unemployment remains 10%, this state of affairs will continue.