By Bob Cusack - 11/04/12 10:00 AM EST
When it comes to making predictions, few politicians compare to Joe Namath.
In 2006, Bush said, “I’m a person who believes we’ll control the House and Senate.” Both chambers subsequently flipped to the Democrats.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 expressed optimism in his presidential matchup against then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.): “We’ve got them just where we want them.” Obama easily defeated McCain, winning 365 electoral votes.
In the spring of that year, Boehner said, “I think we are going to gain seats this year. Period.” He later backtracked, and shortly thereafter, House Democrats expanded their majority by two-dozen seats.
Pelosi famously guaranteed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) would become president in 2004.
While she correctly speculated that Democrats would pick up House seats in 2008, she repeatedly claimed they would hold back the GOP wave in 2010: “One thing I know for sure is that Democrats will retain their majority in the House of Representatives…”
Pelosi this year said there is a better than 50-50 chance Democrats will reclaim control of the House. Independent political handicappers disagree, saying there is little chance of that happening on Tuesday.
Campaign operatives on both sides of the aisle point out that politicians are not trying to be Namath, who correctly predicted that the underdog New York Jets would defeat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Sometimes, they say, it is necessary for politicians to make predictions they don’t necessarily believe. Conceding defeat would scare off donors, the operatives say.
While certain lawmakers are bold, others are more cautious with their crystal balls.
Two years ago, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said, “I think it’s numerically impossible [to win control of the Senate.]…I think it probably is going to take two cycles…”
Senate Republicans cut into the Democratic majority in 2010, and have a chance to grab control of the upper chamber this year.
In an unusual twist, a few lawmakers have also been surprised by election results that were favorable to their side.
Former Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), who is now governor of Hawaii, said he would be “dumbfounded” if Democrats captured the House in 2006. He later became chairman of am Armed Services subcommittee.
In 2005, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it would take “a miracle” for Democrats to win the majority the following year. A Reid aide subsequently noted that the Nevada senator believes in miracles. Reid has been majority leader since the 2006 election.
There have been exceptions to the rule.
Then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Democrats would take back the House and Senate a year before the 2006 elections. At the time, Republicans ridiculed Dean’s assertion.
Later in the cycle, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, “We can win 30 [House] seats.” Hoyer’s prediction was Namath-like as Democrats picked up 30 seats. Four years later, however, Hoyer incorrectly predicted Democrats would retain their majority.