No matter which party has the majority in the House or Senate after Election Day, one thing is already clear: Republicans are going to be a whole bunch more conservative. "Both the House and Senate will have the feel of the House class of '94, people coming to Washington to shake things up," says former Republican Party chief Ed Gillespie.
Part of the reason is that the Tea Party movement is expected to seize many House and Senate seats. And others are likely to go to Reaganesque fiscal conservatives. "This will be something akin to Reagan's first Congress. Some in the new class will shine, some will trip, but all will be a magnifying force for the core that are there now, who are always spitting in the ocean," says GOP strategist Mary Matalin.
The picture is most stark in the Senate, where the conservative leadership of Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell has sometimes had to bend to the wishes of moderates to collect enough votes from the 41 Republicans in the chamber to block President Obama. McConnell realistically hopes to move up to nine new seats into the Republican column. While some of the potentially new members, like Delaware's Mike Castle, aren't right-wingers, seven Republicans who've either switched parties, lost in primaries, or are retiring all look to be replaced with far more right-leaning senators. Just consider the two sitting GOP members ousted by Tea Party candidates: Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Utah's Bob Bennett. Their political slayers, Joe Miller and Mike Lee, are much further to the right.
"The great news is that even if we pick up only seven or eight seats, putting us at 48 or 49, we will have a 100 percent chance daily to get the magic 41 votes needed to sustain a filibuster," says a GOP strategist. And that means moderates, like Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, can be marginalized, he added. And it will elevate the status of the two conservative Senate rabble-rousers, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
The already conservative House, meanwhile, looks to be more so after the election. One longtime adviser to congressional conservatives says it will be like having two chambers filled with allies of longtime righty Sen. Jesse Helms. "Helms was the one guy who held down the fort. Two years after he died, the reinforcements are arriving."
What's more, adds Gillespie, many new House Republicans will arrive with a built-in reelection threat: They have to cut spending, as promised, or else. "If they don't," he says, "they'll get tossed out in 2012."