by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A big enough Democratic wave could threaten the party’s existing House leadership team while washing way the Republican majority.
Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, a member of Congress since 2009, hears echoes of the post-Watertage Democratic gains in 1974 in this year’s election. Once a defender of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Connolly said the California Democrat’s future atop the caucus “will depend on the size and composition of the freshman class.”
“If we beat all expectations and it’s a massive class, well then you’ve got a real wild card there,” he told the Washington Examiner. “The Watergate class took out a lot of sitting chairmen on their own team.”
In 1974, a whopping 76 new Democrats were sent to Congress as voters vented their outrage at President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. Forty-nine of those 76 Democrats flipped GOP-held seats, and when they got to Washington, those new members directed voters’ wrath inward. They wiped out their own party’s leadership on a promise to turn the turmoil and disgust of Watergate into congressional oversight, new productivity, and an establishment shake-up.
Recognizing this as their best shot in more than a decade to recapture the House amid discontent with President Trump, Democrats are buzzing about the possibilities a majority provides — chief among them the ability to rise up the ranks and break the current system of top-down legislating. Though Pelosi says she isn’t going anywhere, viable replacements are starting to count their allies, bring strong Democratic candidates under their wing, and work the caucus.