June 13, 2005
Oh-Six and Oh-eight Updates
Some very interesting developments are occuring in the 06/08 electoral cycles.
First prediction: 06 is going to be a bad year for incumbents in Congress. Public opinion numbers on both parties stink, and the ongoing partisan food-fightery---while a necessary and proper part of the political cycle---I think is going to splat back on both parties ("splat" being a technical political science term for what you laypersons would call "kablooie"). Here's why: whatever discontents the public is going to have about the state of the union, both international and domestic, are going to sit square and fat on the desk of the Republicans. By this point, it's six years since Bubba left town, and twelve years of control of the House. Whatever are the problems we are facing, they are for better or worse ones that the Republicans now own. Year six is also when the wheels generally come off the bus for two term presidents over the past sixty years (Impeachment, Iran/Contra, Watergate, heart attack malaise, and the fallout of the court-packing debacle to name the highlights for Bubba, Reagan, Nixon, Ike, and FDR, and you can throw in Vietnam for LBJ if you want to think of it as the second term of the JFK administration). Discipline begins to break down as the A-Team has gone off to quieter and more lucrative pastures, the JV has been promoted to varsity, and the bench is running pretty thin. Don Regan, anyone? Will Dubya fall into this trap? I'm not sure, as he's defied most of these conventional patterns in the past (think of the 02 midterm victories). The greatest uncertainty will be whether the public grows weary of the long slog of the War. This is the great question mark that we'll try to follow closely in the months to come.
So does this spell great opportunities for the Democrats? Yes, if they were actually serious about winning. But they aren't, or why else would they have selected Howard Dean to be party chairman? The key thing is no matter how unpopular the president may or may not be in seventeen months, it won't really translate into victories in the midterm elections if the Democrats aren't able to recruit, train, and fund good candidates right now. In fact, right now is bordering really on the too late. To win back the Senate, they Democrats have to take six seats from the Republicans while holding all their seats.
Here's a list of the "Class I Senators" (ie the senatorial seats up for election in 06). Eighteen Democrats seats are up, while only fifteen Republican seats have to be defended.
At this point, I would say that there isn't a single senator who is up for reelection in this cycle who has not gone beyond the usual political paranoia and looked to what happened to Tom Daschele and said, "that could be me." Republicans, Democrats both. Why? This is the class of senators elected in 2000----they are the only federal elected officials who haven't had to account to the voters of everything that has happened over the past five years. The House has already faced the voters twice since 9/11, and the president and the rest of the Senate as well. These thirty-three haven't, and that's going to be an important retrospective issue in each of these races.
Let's break them down by party:
SAFE SEATS: Allen, Burns, Ensign, Frist, Hatch, Hutchinson, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, Snowe, Talent, Thomas
FEELING THE HEAT: Santorum, Chafee, DeWine
SEATS THE REPUBLICANS WILL LOSE: Chafee
The Republican seat in Rhode Island is really nothing but a creative anachronism anyway. Santorum is a good campaigner who has produced for Pennsylvania, and he's sitting on $1.9M, although he spent over $9M in 2000. (He's holding 14% of the total he needed in 2000, which is pretty good seventeen months out). Still, the Republicans are going to have to put a lot of money into this race to hold Pennsylvania. Chafee is sitting on only $600K, which, on a percentage basis of the total spending in the last race, isn't bad at all (27% of what the 2000 race cost): Rhode Island races have to buy time on the Providence as well as Boston television stations. Yet, I'd be willing to bet this is the seat the Republicans can afford to lose, and the Democrats---if they are acting rationally---will put all their efforts into picking up.
Even if the Democrats were able to pick up all three of the marginal Republican seats---two (Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) that trend blue at the presidential level, and Ohio, were state Democrats are still sore as hell over last fall's loss---that means picking up at least three (to cover the seat they will lose) from the group of veteran Republican senators listed above.
Not. Gonna. Happen.
SAFE: This is where you would start the traditional listing of the safest of all Democratic seats, West Virginia. But as the polls last week out of Morgantown showed, Big Byrd is in trouble. So who are the safe Democrats? I'd say:
Akaka, Bingaman, Carper, Clinton, Conrad, Feinstein, Kohl, Lieberman, Stabenow.
FEELING THE HEAT: Byrd, Cantwell, Nelson (FLA), Nelson (NEB)
OPEN SEATS: Corzine, Dayton, Jeffords, Sarbanes
SEATS THEY WILL LOSE: Byrd, Cantwell, Dayton
Maria Cantwell is toast. She's sitting on only 3.75% of the cash she spent in 2000, when she spent over eleven million---a large part being of her own now non-existent personal future. She barely won the race over Slade Gorton by a few thousand contested votes, and the shennanigans in Washington's governor's race guarantees a how do you say, ah yes "highly motivated" state Republican party. Dayton's seat in Minnesota is going to go Republican given the political trends in that state. What we can hope for is the prospect of Al Franken running for the seat as a Democrat: as they say on Fark, hillarity ensues. (Almost as much fun as if Ah-nuld we're to run for Feinstein's seat). Corzine's seat will become open if he becomes governor, but the Democrats will hold it. Byrd is going to lose, for reasons we'll develop.
So the Senate is going to be pretty tough, if not impossible, for the Democrats to take. Their best case scenario (that doesn't involve tin foil accoutrements) calls for a wash---they win three and lose three. The House? The problem with the House is the sheer number of seats that are redistricted to be absolutely safe. This in my opinion is the greatest problem in American politics and the source of almost all of our internal political tensions. Still, this is where the recruitment factor can help Democrats---it takes less time to recruit and run good candidates in House elections than Senate ones. So the clock hasn't run out for the 06 bench.
SECOND PREDICTION: To measure how serious the Democrats are about 08, follow the fortunes of Virginia Governor Mark Warner. Warner is their most serious threat to win the White House. This article from the LA Times is priceless for the quote: "That's why America hates Democrats." If the Democrats (continue to) puruse the mantra "why the rest of the world hates America, and why they are right" they are going to continue to be pummelled in federal elections. Not in landslides, but enough of the beatings like last fall that will place them firmly in minority party status. But if they get serious about discovering why they are unpopular in large parts of the country, think and reflect, and act accordingly, 06 and 08 are going to become much closer elections. If the answer is "well because the rest of the country is stupid" they are going to lose. Again. And again.....But, if they think hard about how they lost the center, it's going to be close. And to be perfectly honest, I think that's in the long-term interests of both the country and the Republican party. Close elections keep the parties honest.
THIRD PREDICTION: The "Mother of Presidents" will be busy for the next three years, as Virginia Senator George Allen is beginning to gear up for a serious run at the White House. Big George won a large stack of chips at the big table running the Republican National Senatorial Committee in the 04 cycle. Why else would he be sponsoring along with Mary Landrieu a resolution apologizing for the Senate's consistent record in blocking anti-lynching laws? Why else would GeorgeAllen08.org already be under construction? I mean, other than from ambitious cyber-squatters, of course.
UPDATE: Let me clarify a bit---Allen aint my favorite, by a long stretch. It's just an interesting phenomena.Posted by Steve at June 13, 2005 01:09 PM