Two years into their respective presidencies, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama saw Republicans wrest control of the House from Democrats. Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America helped the GOP win a majority in 1994, while the Tea Party overwhelmingly tipped the balance in favor of Republicans in 2010.
Four years after each upheaval, the Tea Party has proved to have greater staying power. A higher percentage of the Tea Partiers remain in power four years after their wave election when compared with the Contract With America signees that remained in Congress in 1998.
After the 1998 midterms, 52 of the 73 Republican lawmakers who were first elected in 1994 still held a congressional seat, representing a 71 percent retention rate. Last week’s elections resulted in a 80 percent re-election rate for the 2010 crowd, with 70 of the 87 fresh faces from 2010 set to return to Washington.
The reason could come down to general dislike of the president versus a group that set specific policy goals.
The “1994 Republicans had all these ideas,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “They were very specific. The 2010 wave was more just against Obama, and we’ve seen that continue in 2014.”
In that sense, the Contract With America was a bit of an anomaly in midterm politics; having a specific aim isn’t the status quo for presidential off-year elections.
In raw numbers, the Tea Party wave also out-crested the mid-90s Republicans. In 2010, voters sent 87 new House Republicans to Washington. That exceeded the 73 House GOP freshmen who arrived as a result of the 1994 elections.
Skelley said that this year was a classic example of the “six-year itch,” when voters have a tendency to get fed up with the president’s party.
That was certainly the case last Tuesday, when Republicans added to their House majority by netting at least 11 seats; the current Republican total sits at 244, a number which could increase following final results from Arizona, California and New York. The GOP is now looking at what’s likely to be its largest majority in the House since 1928.
Freshmen contributions also helped the party establish comfortable majorities, allowing most Republican-backed bills to sail through the chamber.
In 2010, House Republicans gained 64 seats by jumping from 178 to 242. In 1994, Republicans took 54 new seats, an increase from 176 to 230. Passing legislation in the House requires at least 218 votes when all 435 seats are filled.