THE COMING POWER SHIFT: WHAT ABOUT THE SENATE?
Jay B Gaskill
Politics is our only approved blood sport.
The 60/40 senate juggernaut was formed in the 2008 “red to blue” election when eight seats changed parties from republican to democrat. This gifted the democratic caucus (which includes independents Lieberman of Connecticut, and Sanders of Vermont) with a filibuster-crushing 60 votes.
In this year’s election, only 16 democratic seats are up. For the moment, I’ll consider the 18 republican seats to be safe.
Given current polling trends, we can reasonably expect the House to change hands this year.
Even the shift of a single seat in the Senate will undo the democrat’s grip on the filibuster-choke.
That is almost certain to happen. For example, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to lose in Nevada.
On balance more democratic Senators will lose their seats than will Republicans.
Knowing this, the administration and democratic congressional leaders have an incentive to structure all key legislation this year such that the president and a simple senate majority can block their repeal in 2011.
So the real question becomes this:
IS THERE A SCENARIO IN WHICH THE 2010 ELECTIONS COULD PRODUCE AN EFFECTIVE CONSERVATIVE SENATE COALITION, COMPOSED OF INDEPENDENTS, BLUE DOG DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS?
Open seats held by democrats include: the late Senator Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts (pending the pending special election). Add the other special election, quasi-open seats: Roland Burris’ seat in Illinois, Biden’s old seat in Maryland, and Ted Kaufman’s seat in Delaware.
To this short list we must now add the “preemptive retirement” seats held by Chris Dodd in Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.
Democratic incumbent senators are reportedly in trouble in Arkansas and Colorado and Pennsylvania.
This represents at least 6 seats strongly in play, maybe 7 (I’m excluding only the Kennedy seat, but even that is now single-digit competitive.)
“Very, very safe” incumbent seats include: Dan Inouye of Hawaii, Chuck Schumer of New York, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
The remaining seats are all leaning democratic. Or are they?
An excellent good example of the anti-incumbent volatility in play is Barbara Boxer’s venerable hold on California voters, facing a self-financed wildcard challenge by former Hewlett Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina (who does not yet have the Republican nomination).
No democrat is quite safe enough to go less than full out this year, and that fact alone places a financial strain on the Democratic Party’s campaign resources.
If it is a strong Republican year, as many as net seven senate seats will change hands, leaving the democrats and their allies with a 53 to 47 vote majority. If it is a very, very strong Republican year, eight seats will change hands, producing a 52 to 48 majority.
A passing note: In the unlikely but possible scenario where Senator Barbara Boxer loses in California, democrats will be forced to endure a full-on counter revolution. If Boxer goes, that implies a populist tsunami that will take another four or five seats from democrats.
But let me return to that fragile 52 to 48 vote democratic majority for a moment: The sheer weight of issues does matter. The case on the merits for a strong dose of comprehensive fiscal responsibility is already compelling and will soon become irresistible. A tax revolt coupled with a spending tourniquet will surely follow.
This is the sort of thing that wonderfully concentrates the minds of incumbents everywhere. Senator Lieberman is a sober, fiscally responsible man. Senator Webb of Virginia is more “red than blue” and must run for reelection in the watershed year, 2012. Both will move to the right after the 2010 elections.
The very senior Senator Byrd is old enough to have served in the KKK and gotten away with it. He turns 93 on November 20th, if he lives that long. The West Virginia Governor is a democrat, but the outcome of a special election to replace a senate vacancy there during a populist, conservative revolt is anybody’s guess.
Conservative democrat senators like Ben Nelson (Nebraska) will be feeling populist heat from having caved in for Harry Reid. Other senators, like Bye (Indiana), Landrieu (Louisiana) and McCaskill (Missouri), are very likely to jump from the sinking liberal ship on key votes once the implications of the coming power shift of 2010 sink in.
I predict that the return of repentant Blue Dogs to more conservative voting patterns will take place even if the Republicans pick up only a net 5 seats in the Senate, which is a very likely minimum, by the way.
And this, paradoxically, is a potential survival opportunity for President Obama, if he chooses (like Clinton version 2.0 did) to reinvent himself, one more time. Obama could emerge post 2010 as a reasonable, fiscally sane, tough-on-terrorists centrist. But can doesn’t mean will. I can see no Dick Morris on the horizon to rescue this president from his leftwing bubble, and there is no Hillary for him to call in a centrist personal trainer like Mr. Morris to save the day.
The Obama 2.0 scenario assumes that our new president’s on the job training is over, that he has taken all lessons to heart, that he is now able to make it through the next three years without making any more boneheaded political and policy mistakes. It also assumes that in spite of this administration’s naïve national security mindset, we can all get through this challenging period without another 911 catastrophe.
And please note: A truly game changing national security catastrophe need not be as spectacular as the leveling of the World Trade Center. A single Iranian nuclear test could do it. A few shopping mall suicide bombers would certainly do it.
As one Hillary supporter confided in me: Another 911 on Obama’s watch would keep the democrats out of national office for the next twenty years.
And you thought the World Series and the Super Bowl were interesting.