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November Election Analysis

November 6, 2002

From: Bill Finerfrock
Re: Election results

The November 5th Congressional election results were both surprising and historic. While some races are still to be decided and could affect the progress of legislation both during the lame duck session as well as the next Congress, we wanted to provide you with a preliminary assessment of the impact of the changes.

SENATE - 108th Congress

As of Wednesday afternoon, the make-up of the Senate after January 1st will be:

51 Republicans
47 Democrats

At this time, there are two (Landrieu D-LA and Johnson D-SD) races still classified as undecided.

Senator Tim Johnson currently leads his reelection by approximately 500 votes. Because of the narrowness of this lead, it could be subject to a recount. The election results are currently being reviewed and it has been reported that the review could take until November 12th to complete.

Under Louisiana law, if no candidate receives 50% of the vote, then a run-off is conducted between the top two candidates. Senator Mary Landrieu received 46% of the vote and as a result, a run-off election is scheduled for early December. While there was a considerable gap between Senator Landrieu and her nearest Republican opponent, the combined vote of the three Republicans on the ballot exceeded 50%.

So at a minimum, Republicans will have 51 seats in the 108th Congress and could control as many as 53. By comparison, Democrats will have no fewer than 46 seats and could have as many as 48. If Senator Jeffords maintains his position as an Independent, there will be one Independent in the 108th Congress.

Preliminary estimates are that the Senate Committee Ratios will be 11 Republicans and 9 Democrats. If this is proves correct, there will be 4 new Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee and one Democrat may lose her seat on this Committee. The uncertainty in the Democrat equation stems from the fact that Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) caucuses with Democrats and therefore gets counted among the Democrat Committee allocations. Senator Jeffords’ decision to caucus with the Democrats was significant when the Democrats held the majority, this decision is less important as Democrats move into the minority. Some have suggested that rather then removing Democrats from key Committees, the Democrat leadership could tell Senator Jeffords, thanks, but no thanks.

Due to the change in majority, all Senate Committee Chairmanships will change hands and there will be a reshuffling of Committee assignments. The projected ratios are based upon historical ratios. Here are some of the anticipated changes.

107th Congress 108th Congress
Chairman Ranking Member Chairman Ranking Member
Sen. Finance Baucus (D-MT) Grassley (R-IA) Grassley (R-IA) Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. Approps Byrd (D-WV) Stevens (R-AK) Stevens (R-AK Byrd (D-WV)
Sen. Budget Conrad (D-ND) Domenici (R-NM) Nickles (R-OK) Conrad (D-ND)
Sen. HELP Kennedy (D-MA) Gregg (R-NH) Gregg (R-NH) Kennedy (D-MA)

Senate Leadership

Rumors abound about possible challenges to the Senate Democrat leadership. It is still too early to tell whether any serious challenges will be mounted but a challenge would not be unprecedented. Assistant Republican Leader Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) had previously announced that he would not seek to challenge Senate Republican Leader (soon-to-be Majority leader) Trent Lott (R-MS) regardless of the outcome of the election. Instead, Senator Nickles plans to take the Chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee because Senator Pete Domenici is precluded from continuing in that position due to Senate GOP Committee chairmanship term limit rules. Senator Mitch McConnell(R-KY) has indicated that he will seek the Assistant Majority Leader position and it is believed that he has the votes to be elected to this important position.

HOUSE - 108th Congress

The Republican Party will retain its majority in the House of Representatives during the 108th Congress. As of Wednesday afternoon, November 6th, 4 House seats remain undecided. At a minimum, Republicans will control 227 seats, an increase from their House majority during the 107th Congress. This majority expansion is the first time in history a Republican House majority has been expanded during a mid-term election at the same time that a Republican occupied the White House.

However, beyond its historical significance, it is not clear what the practical significance will be on the progress of legislation in the 108th Congress. Committee ratios could be adjusted to provide for more Republican seats and fewer Democrat seats. For the most part, Committee chairmanships will remain as they have been during the 107th Congress. To the extent that Committee or Subcommittee Chairmanships change during the 108th Congress, it will be more due to GOP Committee chair term limits rather than anything to do with the election results. Some of the key Chairmanships are:

107th Congress 108th Congress
Chairman Ranking Member Chairman Ranking Member
Energy & Commerce Tauzin (R-LA) Dingell (D-MI) Tauzin (R-LA) Dingell (D-MI)
Ways & Means Thomas (R-CA) Rangell (D-NY) Thomas (R-CA) Rangell (D-NY)
Appropriations Young (R-FL) Obey (D-WI) Young (R-FL) Obey (D-WI)
Budget Nussle (R-IA) Spratt (D-SC) Nussle (R-IA) Spratt (D-SC)

As a result of retirements and defeats, a number of vacancies (both democrat and republican) will be occurring on all of these committees. It is not clear who the new members will be and it typically takes several weeks to iron out the new Committee assignments.

House Leadership

Similar to the Senate, some House Democrats are calling for a change in their party’s House Leadership. Most vulnerable appears to be Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO). It is not clear whether the call for change would reach down to other Democrat leadership positions. There is strong speculation that Representative Gephardt will withdraw from consideration as House Minority Leader in order to devote his time and energy to a possible Presidential bid.

Republicans will be electing a new Majority Leader, Majority Whip and Republican Conference Chair when the House Republican Caucus meets the week of September 11th. Majority Leader Dick Armey and GOP Conference Chairman J.C. Watts did not seek reelection to Congress thereby creating vacancies in their Leadership positions. It is expected that Congressman Tom DeLay (D-TX) will take over as majority leader when the Republican caucus convenes next week for organizational meetings. DeLay’s election to the Majority Leader position would in turn leave a vacancy in the Majority Whip position. It is not clear who will ascend to either the Majority Whip position or the GOP Conference position.

Lame Duck

The nature of the upcoming “lame duck” session is not any clearer on November 6th than it was on October 15th. The only certainty is that Congress must pass some form of appropriations bills (either another CR or individual appropriations bills) when it returns November 12th. President Bush has also indicated an interest in trying to move the Homeland Security legislation during the lame duck session. Who will be serving in the Senate during the lame duck is very uncertain. The occupants of three Senate seats remain up in the air for the lame duck session and are as follows:.

1. Senator Jean Carnahan (D-MO): Senator Carnahan was defeated for election to fill the remainder of the term she was appointed to in 2000. Officially the Republican who defeated her on November 5th, former Congressman James Talent, cannot assume the seat until his election is certified by the Missouri Secretary of State. There have been conflicting reports on just when the results can be certified. Some have said recently that certification could occur immediately however others have said that It may take several weeks for the election results to be certified. Senator Carnahan could represent the state for the beginning portion of the lame duck session but be replaced at some point by newly elected Senator Talent.

2. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN): Senator Wellstone was tragically killed in a plane accident just days before the November 5th election. On November 4th, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura announced that he was appointing Independence Party Chairman Dean Barclay. There is a disagreement in legal circles as to whether Mr. Barclay can assume the seat or if he must relinquish the seat to the newly elected Senator, Norm Coleman (R-MN). Also, Barclay has not indicated whether he wold caucus with either party for purposes of selecting leaders during the lame duck session. In any event, a Democrat will not be representing Minnesota during the lame duck session.

3. Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK): On November 5th, Senator Murkowski was elected Governor of Alaska. Under a newly enacted law, Senator Murkowski will be sworn in as the new Governor of Alaska in early December. He will then have the opportunity to appoint his successor who will serve the remaining two years of his term. It is possible that the timing of these various events - swearing in and subsequent appointment - could leave a vacancy in the Senate seat for 10 days.

Much remains to be seen in the coming weeks. As the deliberations proceed and more data and information becomes available, we will keep you posted.

Source: Bill Finerfrock-Capitol Associates