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Professors react to midterm elections

Amanda Gray | Tuesday, November 9, 2010

After Republicans won big in midterm elections last week, Notre Dame professors said the party’s gains could lead to a stronger sense of party division in the coming term.

“The Republicans won big, so they have no need to compromise,” said Jack Colwell, adjunct professor of American Studies and South Bend Tribune columnist. “With Democrats, the more liberal Democrats won — it was the more moderate Democrats that lost.”

The House of Representatives currently has 256 Democratic seats and 179 Republican seats. When the new Representatives take office, 239 Republicans and 188 Democrats will take the floor, with eight seats still pending, according to USA Today’s website.

The Senate will go from its current 57 Democrats, 41 Republicans and two Independents to 51 Democrats, 46 Republicans and two Independents, with one seat still pending.

Colwell said Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District, in which Notre Dame is located, had an interesting race. Incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly narrowly defeated Republican Jackie Walorski for the spot in the House of Representatives.

“It was amazing Donnelly could survive in such a Republican year in a Republican state,” he said. “One of the problems for the next session is that Donnelly is one of the more moderate Democrats, and one of the few left.”

In the races for governor, Republicans also took the majority.

Currently there are 26 Democratic governors and 24 Republican governors. After the new ones are sworn in, there will be 29 Republican governors, 18 Democratic governors and one Independent governor, with two races still pending results, according to USA Today’s website.

When it comes to legislation, Colwell said he predicts problems between party lines.

“There will be stalemate,” he said. “The Republicans in the House of Representatives have had great success with just saying no.”

He also said he sees trouble for President Barack Obama.

“[Obama] will try to work with them — but it takes two to tango,” Colwell said. “I don’t see why Republicans would work with him … I doubt they will work with him.”

The repeal of healthcare reform was on the campaign promise list of many candidates, but Colwell said this would be impossible. However, the newly elected officials could still do some damage.

“Opponents will try to starve it,” he said. “They will try to sabotage it.”

He said this could come in the form of redirecting funds away from programming.

“The only thing that could help end the [partisan] stalemate is that both parties love their country,” he said. “If things started to get bad with something like the economy, you might see politicians on either side work with each other.”

Some have called the Republican victory a “tsunami” or a “hurricane,” Colwell said, but he also said the landslide could have been larger.

“It was a big Republican year,” he said. “They probably would have won the Senate if the Tea Party didn’t nominate so many questionable candidates.”

The Tea Party, a right-wing faction of the Republican Party, received a lot of media attention during the elections.

Michael Desch, chair in the Political Science department, said the Tea Party created problems for the two-party political system.

“There is grounds for optimism for the Obama administration,” he said. “The rise of the Tea Party is not just a problem for the Democrats but also for the Republican Party. There is a lot of anger directed at the Republican establishment.”

Desch, who has a specialty in international politics and foreign policy, said some foreign policy issues were in the background of the midterm election.

“China and trade [was an issue],” he said. “The overarching issue was the economy and unemployment. China was important with these persistent fears. We have an imbalance in trade with China.”

Desch said what seemed to determine the midterm election results was not a great support for the Republican Party, but a general sense of unhappiness with the current government.

“The problems with the economy are long-term and structural,” he said. “The problem is that there are no easy solutions. The American public doesn’t have the stomach for the solutions now.”