Two Wash. Post articles falsely reported Republicans need "net gain" of one seat to control Senate


The Washington Post twice reported that Republicans need a "net gain" of just one seat in the 2008 elections to recapture control of the Senate. However, a "net gain" of one seat for Republicans would result in a 50-50 split. For the Post's assertion to be correct, a senator currently caucusing with the Democrats would have to defect or the GOP would have to keep the White House, neither of which was noted by the Post.

In articles published September 1 (updated September 2) and September 2, The Washington Post reported that Republicans need a "net gain" of just one seat in the 2008 elections to recapture control of the Senate. The Senate is currently composed of 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, one independent, and one "Independent Democrat." Both the independent, Bernie Sanders (VT), and the "Independent Democrat," Joseph I. Lieberman (CT), caucus with the Democrats, giving them a 51-49 majority, and thus control of the Senate. Consequently, if the Republicans achieved a "net gain" of one seat, the makeup of the Senate would be tied with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. In a 50-50 split, the party occupying the White House controls the Senate, with the vice president providing the tie-breaking vote.

Therefore, for the Post's assertion -- that a net gain of one vote would give Republicans control of the Senate -- to be correct, one of two things would have to occur: The Democratic caucus would have to lose Lieberman (or another senator) or the GOP would have to keep the White House. Neither article noted that the assertion rested on one of the two scenarios.

In failing to spell out the circumstances that would have to exist for the assertion to be true, the Post also overlooked the fact that Lieberman has specifically vowed to continue caucusing with the Democrats. Indeed, his congressional website says that Lieberman "remains committed to caucusing with Senate Democrats, but will be identified as an Independent Democrat (ID-CT)." Moreover, as Media Matters for America noted, before losing the Democratic primary in August 2006, Lieberman told New York magazine: "I've been a Democrat for 40 years, I'll die a Democrat, I'll probably be a Democrat after my death, I may still be voting Democrat in some cities in Connecticut postmortem." A decision on Lieberman's part to caucus with the Republicans would thus be a violation of his pledge.

From a September 1 article by staff writer Bill Turque:

[Sen. John] Warner's [R-VA] departure triggers a round of political jockeying that will change the political landscape nationally and in Virginia.

It represents more bad news for Republicans, who already face the prospect of defending 22 Senate seats and who seek a net gain of one to control of [sic] the chamber, which Democrats hold, 51-49. Democrats, emboldened by Sen. James Webb's victory over incumbent Republican George Allen last year, see Virginia as a prime target of opportunity.

From a September 2 article by Washington Post staff writer Jonathan Weisman and staff writer Chris Cillizza:

A Senate electoral playing field that was already wide open for 2008 has become considerably more perilous for Republicans with the retirement of Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and the resignation of scandal-scarred Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho).

Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to take back control of the Senate, but they have 22 seats to defend, and campaign cash is conspicuously lacking. Warner's retirement raised to two the number of open Republican seats, and both of them -- in Virginia and Colorado -- are prime targets for Democrats.

Posted In
Elections, Government, The Senate
The Washington Post
2008 Elections
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