Posted: Feb. 20, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

If the Democrats in Delaware had bad election years anymore, the one coming up in 2014 could make them jittery.

It will be the Six-Year Itch.

The name is an actual term in politics for something that occurs with the same predictability of leap years, blue moons and Governor's Day at the Delaware State Fair.

It is the nomenclature for an election that falls in the sixth year of a two-term presidency, midway between re-election and au revoir, and it has consequences for the president's party. Like the president's party often gets clobbered.

That would be Barack Obama and the Democrats.

"Voter fatigue with a president after six years is a very real danger for Obama," Stuart Rothenberg wrote recently in The Rothenberg Political Report, the non-partisan political newsletter where he is the editor and publisher.

The phenomenon of the Six-Year Itch usually comes up in analyses of congressional seats, with the president's party at risk of losing them, but as it turns out, legislative seats here in Delaware experience the same effect.

Election President Senate House General Assembly Congress
1962 Democrat (Kennedy) -1D +4D +3 seats -1D
1966 Democrat (Johnson) -4D -18D -22 seats -51D
1970 Republican (Nixon) 0 -3R -3 seats -10R
1974 Republican (Ford) -3R -5R -8 seats -53R
1978 Democrat (Carter) 0 -5D -5 seats -18D
1982 Republican (Reagan) -1R -9R -10 seats -25R
1986 Republican (Reagan) 0 0 no change -13R
1990 Republican (Bush) -2R +1R -1 seat -9R
1994 Democrat (Clinton) -3D -4D -7 seats -60D
1998 Democrat (Clinton) +1D +1D +2 seats +5D
2002 Republican (Bush) 0 +3R +3 seats +10R
2006 Republican (Bush) 0 -3R -3 seats -36R
2010 Democrat (Obama) -1D +2D +1 seat -69D

Not just Six-Year Itch elections, but mid-term elections in general, tend to be hazardous for the president's party in congressional and legislative races, as shown by the chart based on information drawn from state election returns and the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

There can be something of an antidote, however. It is the president's popularity.

When the president's approval rating is above 60 percent in the polls, it can negate the fallout, as it did for Bill Clinton and the Democrats in the Six-Year Itch of 1998. At least, it could mitigate the impact from the voters, if not from Monica Lewinsky and the impeachment proceedings.

As of now, Obama's approval rating hovers barely above 50 percent, clearly in the danger zone, although it goes without saying that his standing with the voters could be vastly different by Election Day 2014.

Futhermore, the voters here appear to like Obama -- not to mention his vice president -- a lot more than the national polls reflect. They just re-elected the two of them with 59 percent of the vote. It is the sort of thing that could help out the Democrats in the next round of legislative races.

The Delaware Democrats also seem to have some built-in immunity of their own. They have not had a bad election in over a decade, not since 2002, when they lost three out of the five statewide races and shockingly shrank to 12 out of 41 members in the state House of Representatives.

The Democrats here even escaped the backlash to Obama in the 2010 mid-term election, when their party got walloped elsewhere around the country and dropped 69 seats, six of them in the Senate and 63 in the House.

The Delaware Republicans had gone into the 2010 campaign season with history on their side and hopes of turning it into a down year for the Democrats. Then Christine O'Donnell came along.

The Democrats are approaching the Six-Year Itch election without much to worry about.

With 122,000 more Democrats than Republicans on the voter registration rolls, it is solid protection for the Democrats at the federal level in the re-election campaigns of Chris Coons for senator and John Carney for congressman.

Besides, the Republicans are in their wilderness years. They have won only one statewide race in the last two elections. It was for Tom Wagner's re-election for auditor, not exactly a blockbuster.

The Democrats are also in the majority in the General Assembly by 13-8 in the Senate and 27-14 in the House. Not much is likely to change, because neither party has many targets of opportunity, as it looks now.

The Senate has perhaps three possibilities:

--The retirement watch is already on for 80-year-old Bob Venables, about the last of the Democratic conservatives who used to rule Sussex County, and his seat is all but certain to go Republican.

--There could be a rematch in northern New Castle County between Greg Lavelle, the Republican minority whip, and Mike Katz, a Democrat unseated after one term, but it is a Republican district.

--The Democrats also could go after Ernie Lopez, a newly elected Republican, in Sussex County, just because rookie legislators tend to be more vulnerable.


The same goes for the House:

--The Democrats want another shot at a district in lower New Castle County/upper Kent County, where the registration leans their way and Jeff Spiegelman, the new Republican representative, barely topped 50 percent of the vote to win an open seat.

--A rematch could be in order in Kent County between Trey Paradee, a newly-elected Democrat, and Lincoln Willis, a Republican who lost after one term.

--The warning signs are up for John Atkins, a Sussex County conservative with a  mercurial political career, elected first as a Republican, forced to resign for legislative misbehavior, and resurrected as a Democrat, but barely surviving his last race with just over 50 percent of the vote. 

A Six-Year Itch for the Democrats here? It looks like they can be up to it with a Six-Year Scratch.