The election this week of a Democrat to a traditionally Republican seat in the House of Representatives is amping up what already have been percolating hopes for Democrats to retake their House majority in 2012.
Make no mistake: I share the aspiration. But at the risk of casting a pall over the excitement before it's barely begun, I'd like to inject a cautionary thought.
No, I'm not going to waste your time by beating the drum for the old political disclaimer that one should not read too much in the result of one special election, such as the one just concluded in upstate New York which will send Kathy Hochul to Washington as the newest member of Congress.
(If anything, the string of Republican wins in a series of special and off-year elections through 2009 and 2010 turned out to be a pretty good predictor of the drubbing Democrats ended up taking last November.)
Rather, my warning to Democrats is this: Go ahead and get excited about wresting the speaker's gavel back out of John Boehner's hands — but don't forget about the Senate in the process.
Don't assume House and Senate necessarily go hand-in-hand.
After all, while Republicans were able to win the House in 2010, they fell short in the Senate, and Democrat Harry Reid remains majority leader today.
Imagine what could happen next year if Democrats succeed storming their way back in the House, but Republicans knock Democrats out in the Senate.
It could well happen.
E. J. Dionne, the smart liberal Washington Post commentator, forecast the possibility in a recent column:
Both houses could switch parties, but in opposite directions. The Democrats could take back the House — the GOP is defending a lot of Democratic-leaning seats — while Republicans could take over the Senate, given the difficult array of states Democrats must win. If this happens, remember, you read it here first.
Dionne nails it. Politically, the House Republicans and Senate Democrats actually have the same problem: they each have to hold a number of marginal seats to defend their majorities.
Add to that, this unpleasant math for Democrats: they have 23 Senate seats to defend in 2012, while the GOP has just 10. Republicans have to only pick up four and we would be saying hello to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.