Kozak to discuss midterm elections, political climate at Women’s Club



Sponsoring an analysis of current political and electoral developments in the United States has long been a tradition for the Chautauqua Women’s Club.

At 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, David Kozak will return to the podium for his 27th consecutive season. Titled “The Political Climate and Mid-Term Elections 2014” his lecture is part of the Contemporary Issues Forum.

According to Kozak, distinguished professor of public policy and director of Leadership Erie at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, his talk this summer will be especially important.

“This midterm election is very exciting,” Kozak said. “It’s really going to matter. This will be a high-stakes election. Pay attention to it.”

Kozak said that domestic and foreign policy will be taking center stage at his lecture. At the top of his list of controversial foreign policy issues are Ukraine, the Arab Spring and the immigration crisis. The surge in the number of cases of the Ebola virus in West Africa within the past two weeks is also of immediate concern. 

Kozak said that he always begins his Chautauqua lectures with “what’s new in the news.” He then plans to cover national health care, the Congressional elections, potential changes resulting from Kansas’ state deficit, factors distinguishing the current U.S. electorate from those of the past seven midterm elections, key congressional and gubernatorial races and candidates, and other stories providing a segue from the 2014 midterm to the 2016 presidential election.

The midterm election is Nov. 4. On Capitol Hill, 33 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate and all of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be contested.

Currently, the U.S. Senate is comprised of 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and two Independents, both
of whom caucus with the Democrats.

The U.S. House of Representatives is comprised of 234 Republicans and 199 Democrats. Two seats are vacant.

According to Kozak, the outcome of the Congressional election will depend on the president’s popularity, money, world events and voter turnout. He said that turnout is generally good for the party of opposition — or “out-party” — that is not in the White House. 

“It’s an uphill reach for Democrats in the House,” Kozak said. “The president’s party loses in midterms. The party not in the White House has the six-year itch. The Senate is where the real fight will be. It’s hard to predict. It’s like a kaleidoscope. Every time you peer into it, it looks different. ‘Fluidity’ is the term to use. Predictive models are out the window. I’ll talk about what it will mean if there’s a Republican Senate as well as a Republican House.”

Kozak said that there’s much more polarization than in 1981-82 when he was a Congressional Fellow in both the House and the Senate.

“They just score points on each other, which feeds the very low approval rating of Congress,” he said. “Even though life moves so fast, the bad taste in people’s mouths from the government shutdown last October is still there. It soured people.”

There is, however, a good news story.

Kozak said that two very different members of Congress — House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash. — are determined not to repeat the 2013 government shutdown and possibly imperil the full faith and credit of the United States.

“The midterm elections [are] a bridge to both the past and the future,” said Kozak.

By future, he means not only the 2016 presidential election and potential candidates, but also how people will characterize and interpret the 2014 election, including their conclusions about Barack Obama’s presidency.

“That’s more of a reality than the reality,” he said. “These are very challenging times. Obama won in 2008 with a message about hope and change. In 2010, the Republicans really scored big in the midterm election. But they spent too much money, which gave rise to the Tea Party. Now, everything is about the constant tension and collision of those two elections.”

Since 1984, Kozak has attended the national nominating conventions of both parties as an academic in residence doing media commentary for C-Span, CNN and the BBC. He is also author, editor and contributor to more than 10 books on U.S. government and politics.

Since 1972, Kozak has taught political science at the college level, initially at the U.S. Air Force Academy, followed by the National War College of Washington, D.C., and Gannon University. He retired from the Air Force with the rank of Lt. Colonel in 1988. Kozak earned a master’s in political science and public administration from Kent State University and a doctorate in public policy from the University of Pittsburgh.

Kozak was originally scheduled to speak Aug. 23, at the end of Week Nine. Francesca Gino, author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed and How We Can Stick to the Plan, who was originally scheduled for Saturday, is in the Week Nine slot.