ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
President Obama is not up for reelection for another two years, but this November, his party faces a serious challenge to its majorities in Congress. Of the 435 House seats, the Democrats now hold 255. The Republicans have 178 and there are two vacancies. So if the GOP scores a net gain of 39 seats, they would have a majority.
In the Senate, the Democrats have 56 seats out of 100, plus two Independents who caucus with them. And the West Virginia seat of the late Robert Byrd is vacant. So what are the prospects for control of the next Congress? Joining us to share his insights is Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. Welcome.
Mr. STUART ROTHENBERG (Editor, Rothenberg Political Report): Thank you.
SIEGEL: And, first, just a quick historical question. Two years after a new president's been elected, bringing in new members of Congress with him, what should we expect? What typically happens?
Mr. ROTHENBERG: Well, historically the president's party has problems in midterm election. It didn't occur in 2002, the Bush first mid-term. But if you look back over the past few decades, the president has problems. Voters become disgruntled, disappointed, they turn to the other party.
SIEGEL: So let's start with the House. Of the 435 seats, all that which are up every two years, how many seats do you regard as competitive and what do you think is a likely outcome now?
Mr. ROTHENBERG: Well, we have about 80 seats right now that are competitive. Most of them, all but a dozen currently held by Democratic members of Congress. I think right now everybody agrees that the House is generally in play. That is, there are enough seats on the table so the Republicans could nab 39 seats. There are significant differences of opinion as to whether they will right now. I think it's a little too early, Robert, to make the call for 39, 40 seats. So we see substantial Republican gains. At this point I think it's just premature to call the House.
SIEGEL: Now, in the Senate, I gather 36 seats are up and 18 of them are now held by Republicans, 18 by Democrats. According to your rankings, what does it look like now?
Mr. ROTHENBERG: Well, the same direction as in the House, that is, significant Republican gains. Right now it looks difficult for the Republicans to net 10 seats, which is what they would need. Remember, if you count Senator Byrd's seat as a Democratic seat and a Democrat will be appointed there. Nine seats would make it 50/50. The vice president breaks the tie, so the Republicans need 51 seats. Ten seats is a big number.
We think that right now the Republicans are poised to win between five and eight seats. So they will have a good year, quite a good year, but right now they need a couple of other states to come into play before they'd have any chance, really, of netting 10.
SIEGEL: So for now, at least, the prospect for President Obama is to be dealing with a Congress that is significantly more Republican, maybe split majorities in the two chambers.
Mr. ROTHENBERG: Right. No, the dynamic in Washington will be very different after November. The president will have to get along with substantial Republican minorities in both houses or Republican control of one house. That might not be a bad thing for him. He'll be able to play off them. Right now the Democrats are responsible for everything. The Republicans have such small numbers in both the House and the Senate that they're largely irrelevant. If they become factors, I think he might be able to play off them better.
SIEGEL: From what you see all over the country, is this turning into a de facto nationalized election in which there are clear themes running coast to coast? Or is it dozens and dozens of local elections with different issues?
Mr. ROTHENBERG: Well, you don't get numbers like this if it's race by race. No, there is a definite political wave building, as one built in 2006, and another one built in 2008. This is building, except that this time it's to the Republicans' direction. It's really the same issue, Robert. It's change. Voters are not happy. They don't like where the economy's going. Many are concerned with Afghanistan. And so voters vote for change and we only have two parties, so the out party is benefitting.
SIEGEL: Stu Rothenberg, thanks for talking with us.
Mr. ROTHENBERG: Sure.
SIEGEL: Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.