In the House, Richard Nixon’s the one. In the Senate, Bill Clinton has not stopped thinking about tomorrow. But both of them are about to be replaced in modern political history* by Barack Obama unless Election Day turns out far differently than projected.
The category, Alex? Recent two-term Presidents who have done the most political damage to their party in their two mid-term elections. Mid-term destruction, in other words.
In the House, Nixon lost a total of 60 seats across his two mid-term elections – 12 in 1970 and 48 in 1974 (Watergate, baby!). The funny thing is, Obama already has Nixon beat in the House. Obama lost 63 House seats in 2010, so unless he somehow gains four House seats on Tuesday, he will simply be adding to his lead as the most destructive President to his own party in the House.
The least destructive midterm President in the House? Surprisingly, George W. Bush. In 2002, Republicans gained eight House seats, while losing 30 in 2006 (and the majority) for a net loss of 22 House seats in mid-term elections. Reagan had the second smallest impact, losing 31 seats – 26 in 1982, and five in 1986. Clinton lost a monster 52 seats in 1994, but cut his total losses to 47 by gaining five in 1998 despite Newt Gingrich’s master plan.
Now, to be fair, some will argue that Nixon should still be considered the champ, since he lost his 60 seats from the minority in both cases, but, for raw numbers, it looks like Obama will be the winner (well, actually loser).
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Democratic political giant Bill Clinton edges out Republican political giant Ronald Reagan by one net Senate seat lost. Clinton lost eight seats in 1994 and none in 1998. Reagan also lost eight in 1986, but his net gain of one seat in 1982 gives him a net drop of seven.
Obama is not far off that pace, having lost six Senate seats in 2010. While Republicans are hoping and expecting he’ll lose more than three, that’s all it takes for Obama to be the biggest loser on the Senate side in mid-terms.
Nixon lost a net of three while Bush lost a net of four.
Going by chambers lost, Clinton lost the House and Senate in his first mid-term (and never got them back), Bush lost the House and Senate in his second mid-term, Obama lost the House in his first mid-term, and Reagan lost the Senate in his second mid-term. Nixon is the only President of the five who never had a House or Senate majority to even lose. (Of course, the phrase “Nixon is the only President. . .” applies to many different circumstances!)
So, on Tuesday, Obama is going for a dubious double double – most total House and Senate mid-term losses of any President in the modern political era. Or, in his case, modern political error.
*Modern political history is defined as my earliest political memory, which was the terrible day when RFK was shot in 1968. While campaigns have changed in many significant ways since then, campaigns have changed significantly since the 1950s, the decade of the previous two-term President.