One person who knows a bit about what a political wave looks like is Newt Gingrich. Right up until the eve of the election in 1994, few believed that he was going to pull off the first Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in four decades. I was a Time Magazine correspondent traveling with Gingrich in those final weeks, barnstorming in a six-seat plane from Cobb County, Georgia, to Tullahoma, Tenn., to Midwest City, Okla. By Election Day that year, Gingrich would have been to 137 congressional districts.
It was clear that something big was happening, but it was hard to take him and his top strategist Joe Gaylord all that seriously when they told me their conservative estimate was that they would win 40 seats from the Democrats in the House — enough to make Gingrich the next speaker. When the votes were counted a few weeks later, it turned out that the party had picked up 54.
Twenty years later, is the former Speaker sensing the same sort of movement? I emailed him for his take. Here's the message he sent back from his iPad:
Your note brought back a lot of 1994 memories.Remember that almost no one in the media thought we would win a majority even the Monday night before the election.You are witnessing something different but potentially equally historic.The growth of the GOP makes it harder for us to create a tidal wave. We already occupy most of the easy spaces.What we are seeing is something different.Think of it as a rising tide that is creeping into purple and blue areas.The GOP may win the Massachusetts and Connecticut governorships.Colorado is drifting back toward the GOP.Iowa is going to reelect the governor in a landslide and probably elect a GOP senator.Arkansas is completing the southern drift toward the GOP.West Virginia captures the drift theory. There has been a steady erosion in West Virginia and the [Rep. Shelley Moore] Capito landslide [in her bid to become the first Republican the state has elected to the Senate since 1956] is the culmination of a tide rising over a number of years.The real power of the rising GOP tide is going to be seen in the state legislatures.The number of GOP supermajorities after this election will be astounding.This has three big effects. It puts the GOP in charge of policy and forces it to become more solution oriented. It increases the GOP's power in redistricting. It starves the Democrats of junior incumbents to form a farm team for future big races. In some ways, the Democrats, after a 34-year drift going back to Reagan in 1980, are now moving toward the institutional weakness the Republicans had from 1932 to 1994.[National Republican Committee chairman] Reince Priebus is going to have some very instructive breakthroughs especially with Latinos and Asian-Americans. [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich's endorsement by the leading African-American paper in Ohio is another sign. [House speaker John] Boehner's drive to get at least the maximum number of House seats in modern times builds a firewall that may keep the GOP in control for another generation ( who would have thought the GOP would control the House for 16 of 20 years when you were riding with me).There will clearly be a tide on election day, and the question is how high it will rise.If everything breaks it could be a tidal wave. If not, it will just be a rising tide.