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Easy prediction: 2014 elections will merely renew gridlock

Americans are about to dive into the deep end of the 2014 congressional elections, and the pool is filled with odoriferous muck. Nothing new about that. Most campaigns these days are slimy affairs, but at least they sometimes bring positive change. This will not be one of those times.

After the vote on Nov. 4, Congress will still be drowning in the same partisan gridlock that has kept it from seriously addressing any of the crises facing the nation since the 2010 congressional elections. It might be reassuring to think that, in our Great Democracy, anything can happen, and we might all be pleasantly surprised to find we’ve elected a bunch of statesmen who are eager to work together for the good of the country. It would also be nice to discover the glaciers aren’t melting, or that there are millions of new, good-paying middle-class jobs, or that radical Islamists are becoming as docile as Presbyterians.

None of those nice things is going to happen anytime soon, if ever. Nor will there be a miracle on election day.

Instead, Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives and possibly gain a few seats. There are several structural reasons this result is pretty much guaranteed. Gerrymandering by GOP legislatures is a small but significant factor; the over-concentration of Democratic voters in cities is a bigger one. This is also an election year that does not seem to be firing up either conservatives or liberals in a way that would endanger many incumbents. Add to that the minuscule number of true swing districts and there is not even a remote possibility of sweeping change in the House this year.

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In the Senate, there are still electoral question marks. A small batch of races appear to be so tight that predicting which party finally wins control of the upper house is like guessing if a fruit fly will turn right or left. Still, it appears Democrats have the steeper climb to retain their Senate majority. In Louisiana, for instance, Democratic incumbent Mary L. Landrieu is ahead of her Republican opponent, but only because right-wing votes are being siphoned off to an independent tea party candidate. Landrieu is at 43% in polls today, and if she does not get 50% of the vote in November, she will be forced into a top-two runoff in December. Landrieu would likely lose that second round because she would be facing a reunited conservative vote.

The greater point, though, is that none of this matters all that much. Yes, President Obama would be more politically isolated without a Democratic majority in the Senate, but it is already nearly impossible to pass any administration-backed bill because Democrats do not have enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. And as we have seen for four years, even if Obama-friendly legislation squeaks by conservatives in the Senate, it is bound to die a lonely death in the GOP House.

If Republicans control both houses of Congress, they would not be able to implement their own plans any more easily than Obama has done. They would face filibustering Democrats in the Senate and a president with a veto pen.

We are dealing with a very different political system than we once had. The evolution of Republicans and Democrats from two broadly based parties built on coalitions of disparate groups to two political parties that are far more ideologically pure has made compromise and accommodation difficult. And the roughly 50-50 split in the electorate has lessened the chance either party can dominate government long enough to get a coherent package of policies in place.

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Until something changes, until one side or the other wins both Congress and the White House, there is only one thing for sure that will happen in Washington and that is nothing.


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