In 2002, President George W. Bush and the Republican Party defied history. As we noted in our recap, up until 2002, a first-term president’s party had not gained ground in midterm elections since 1934. By rallying behind the popular president, however, Republicans were able to pick up seats in both the House and the Senate, thus solidifying their hold on the legislative branch.
Despite these gains, the outlook for Republicans heading into the 2004 election was questionable. In November 2002, President Bush had a favorability rating of 64%. Two years later, in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, it had fallen to 49%. The Iraqi War and foreign affairs were a central issue in the presidential campaign, and Democratic candidate John Kerry continually attacked the president’s judgment. Candidate spending, voter turnout, and partisan dissension were high, and Bush defeated Kerry in a contentious and close election.
Republican’s grip on control of Congress was also tenuous. The GOP entered the 2004 election with a one-seat majority in the Senate and a twelve-seat majority in the House. With such narrow margins, the congressional races mattered nearly as much as the marquee presidential matchup.
In the House, very few seats were considered to be “in play.” Buoyed by redistricting in Texas, where Republicans gained 5 seats, the GOP was able to grow their majority in the House by 3 seats. In the Senate, however, Democrats were hamstrung. Eight senators retired prior to the 2004 election and of those, five were Democrats who hailed from southern states with Republican leanings. Republicans were able to flip all 5 of those seats in addition to defeating Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD).
A full breakdown of the 2004 election cycle is below.
BY THE NUMBERS
Party Division Change By Congress*
- 108th Congress (2003-2004): 205 Dems / 229 GOP / 1 Ind
- 109th Congress (2005-2006): 201 Dems / 233 GOP / 1 Ind
- Republicans had a net gain of 3 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives through the 2004 election cycle.
- Republicans flipped 8 seats.
- Democrats flipped 5 seats.
- There were 3 special elections in the House held between Jan. 1, 2003 and the November 2004 election.
- Democrats flipped 1 seat held during a special election.
- 2 Democrats switched parties and became a Republican (TX-04, LA-05).
- There were 29 members who did not run again or who sought other offices.
- 12 Democrats / 17 GOP
- 7 incumbents were defeated in the 2004 election.
- Republicans flipped 2 seats by defeating the incumbent.
- Democrats flipped 5 seats by defeating the incumbent.
Party Division Change By Congress*
- 108th Congress (2003-2004): 49 Dems / 51 GOP
- 109th Congress (2003-2004): 44 Dems / 55 GOP / 1 Ind (Caucused w/ Dems)
- 34 Senate seats were up for election in 2004 (15 GOP / 19 Dem)
- Republicans had a net gain of 4 seats in the U.S. Senate through the 2004 election cycle.
- Republicans flipped 6 seats.
- Democrats flipped 2 seats.
- There were no special elections in the Senate.
- There were 8 Senators who did not run again or who sought other offices (5 Democrats / 3 GOP)
- Republicans flipped 5 open seats.
- Democrats flipped 2 open seats.
- 1 Senate incumbent was defeated in the 2004 election.
- Republicans flipped 1 seat by defeating the incumbent (SD).
- Party Divisions, U.S. House, U.S. Senate
- “Vital Statistics On Congress,” Brookings Institute;
- Michael Levy, “United States Presidential Election Of 2004,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 1/9/19
- Jeffrey Bloodworth, “The Election Of 2004 – Congressional Election Results,” Center For Presidential History, Southern Methodist University, Accessed 1/9/19
* Figures presented are the House/Senate party divisions as of the initial election results. Subsequent changes in membership due to deaths, resignations, contested or special elections, or changes in a Member’s party affiliation are not included.
**The “flipped seat” number reflects shifts in party control of seats from immediately before to immediately after the November elections. It does not include party gains resulting from the creation of new districts and does not account for situations in which two districts were reduced to one, thus forcing incumbents to run against each other.
*** Figures do not include special elections held on the day of the general election.
****Figures do not include members that were defeated in a primary. The House number also excludes two 13-term representatives, Charles Stenholm (TX) and Martin Frost (TX), that ran against incumbents as a result of redistricting.