By Chris Matthews Host of 'Hardball'
msnbc.com
updated 9/6/2006 1:13:26 PM ET 2006-09-06T17:13:26
COMMENTARY

The world is about to learn again the power of the American ballot.

This November, the governorships of California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and many other states are up for election.   A third of the U.S. Senate seats are also on the block, including hot races in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Montana, Rhode Island, Missouri and Tennessee.        

But the big test promises to be in the U.S. House of Representative.  It is there that American voters will make the critical decision on who runs the U.S. government. 

If voters send a majority of Republicans back into the House of Representatives, the party will control both the Congress and the Presidency.  

If they vote a majority of Democrats to the House, America will once again have a divided government as we had through most of the 1990s.

The magic number is 218.

If the Democrats win 218 seats, the world press will declare that President Bush has lost control of Congress over the Iraq War.  The vote will be trumpeted as a rejection of the president’s war policy.

A Democratic victory in the House would give them some tangible benefits as well:

  • The Speakership.  Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California will be Speaker of the House.  When President Bush delivers the State of the Union early next year, the country will see an unprecedented sight sitting in that large chair behind him: a woman.
  • The Majority Leadership.  The Majority Leader, a Democrat, will decide the House schedule of legislation.   It could push its measures through the House, kill or slow down the Bush agenda on taxes, spending, everything.
  • Committee Chairmen.  The Democrats will control Ways and Means, which has jurisdiction on taxes, trade, Social Security, Medicare; Appropriations, which controls spending; Armed Services and all the other House committees.   Every committee chairmen will be a Democrat.
  • Subpoena Power.  The Democrats will have the power to conduct investigations and public hearings on sensitive administration policies; energy policy, 9/11 and its aftermath, the handling of the Iraq war.   Its chairmen would be able to subpoena witnesses to testify against the administration.

Recall that it was a Democrat-controlled House that forced Richard Nixon from the White House, a Republican-controlled House that impeached Bill Clinton.

This election could see some major politicians, including some Democrats, thrown from office. Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich, a Republican, could lose to Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.  Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, could lose to businessman Dick DeVos, a Republican. If the primaries are a guide, there could be other well-known figures facing defeat. In a volatile election like 2006, incumbency is not the daunting advantage it’s been in the past.

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