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7 Conclusions On November 3, 2010, the day after the historic midterm elections, President Obama described the electoral results as a “shellacking” and took responsibility for the significant Democratic losses. In total, 52 Democratic incumbents were defeated in the U.S. House, making it the worst loss for a party at the midterm since 1938. In the wake of the overwhelming defeat for Democrats, some pundits posited that the results were a clear referendum on the Obama administration. After four years of serving in the minority, the Republicans managed to win back control of the House with a comfortable 242–193 seat margin and fell just four seats shy of retaking control of the Senate. With presidential approval hovering slightly below 50 percent, a still sluggish economy throughout President Obama’s first two years in office, and a number of controversial roll call votes taken during the 111th Congress, the voters seemingly sent a strong message of discontent to the president through the only means necessary at the time—by punishing members of his party in Congress during the 2010 midterm elections. One of the main ways the Republicans were able to translate public discontent into a large seat gain in 2010 stemmed from the significant electoral advantage they had in candidate recruitment that year. Whereas one party or the other often has a small net advantage in recruiting experienced candidates to run in a given election year, 2010 was truly historic for the Republicans. For the first time in over six decades, the Republicans had a significant advantage in quality candidate recruitment over the Democrats, netting 32 more experienced candidates on the ballot. Additionally, they were also generally more successful at recruiting Republican candidates across the board. Indeed, 139 140 Ambition, Competition, and Electoral Reform in 430 of the 435 House races held in 2010, Republicans fielded a candidate on the ballot, which is unprecedented in the modern era of reduced electoral competition. The combination of the weak economy, an unpopular president, and strong anti-Democratic national tides led to an electoral scenario that was clearly stacked in favor of the Republicans (Carson and Pettigrew 2011). Just four years earlier, during the 2006 midterm elections, the Democratic Party managed to pick up enough seats in the House and Senate to recapture control of both chambers of Congress for the first time since 1994. The growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq, President George W. Bush’s relatively low approval ratings, and the numerous scandals plaguing Republican Party legislators were some of the factors that contributed to the reversal of fortune during the election. Democrats were poised to take advantage of these and other problems that the Republican majority had to contend with by recruiting and fielding a sizable number of quality challengers to compete in open seats and against marginal incumbents. Indeed, many of the Democratic candidates that defeated Republican incumbents or won control of open seats in the election had previous experience in elective office (i.e., they were “quality” candidates) (Jacobson 2008). Thus, it was the combination of both individual and national-level factors during the election that assisted the Democrats in wresting majority control of Congress away from the Republicans. When the Republicans captured a majority of both chambers 12 years earlier during the 1994 midterm elections, their victory ended 40 years of Democratic control of the House.1 Due in part to an increased number of retirements among Democratic incumbents in 1992, the Republicans began to slowly make inroads into the Democratic majority in Congress. Two years later in 1994, the Republicans were successful in capturing control of both chambers of Congress in this watershed election as a result of the larger than average number of experienced Republican candidates running for office and the sizable number of open seats vacated by retiring Democratic incumbents. Once again, the relatively large number of quality candidates running in the 1994 midterms and a pro-GOP national tide resulted in a dramatic change in the composition of the U.S. House (Jacobson 1996). With the exception of these three notable elections, we have to go back as far as the 1954 election to find a shift in partisan control of the House of Representatives. In the decades preceding World War II, however, there were numerous instances of majority control shifting Conclusions 141 back and forth between Democrats and Republicans every few election cycles. In the 37 separate elections held between 1872 and 1946, for instance, the major parties exchanged...


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