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« After Fidel. | WILLisms.com | No Iowa, No "Yeeaaaarrrrgggggghhhh." »

2006 Senate Races Promising For Republicans.

After the 2004 election, Republicans were elated to control 55 seats in the Senate. Afterall, 55 is better than 51, and it is much better than below 50.

But is 55 actually that much better than 51? The Senate's rules are such that unless there is a supermajority of 60 votes behind legislation, a minority can filibuster indefinitely. The minority essentially has veto power over anything, unless the majority is a supermajority.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has promised that he has 45 Senators lined up and ready to filibuster Social Security reform. Former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle learned the hard way that obstruction of a reform agenda is a sure ticket to retirement, particularly in a Republican-leaning state. Daschle lost to Republican John Thune for a variety of reasons, but the Wall Street Journal's persistent rebukes of Daschle's "Dead Zone" were an important factor:


Thus, although Republicans ostensibly control the executive and legislative branches of government, Republicans face a determined group of Democrats still reeling and discombobulated from the loss of their long-held majority party status. For whatever reason, the response of Senate Democrats has not been to adapt to the changing political climate. Their response has not been to offer their own reform agenda. No, their response has been to obstruct, obstruct, and obstruct some more, offering little or nothing in terms of a proactive agenda. Michael Barone calls this strategy, "just say no."

One lesson from 2004: Democrats living in Republican-leaning and Republican-trending states must be cognizant of, and try to avoid, a new verb in politics: being "Daschled."

Democrats seem to have learned almost nothing from recent elections. In fact, they seem to have learned the wrong lessons from history, as some Democrats feel that blocking Social Security reform is their ticket to regaining the Congress, a la Gingrich and other Republicans in 1994.

Democrats actually believe this. Seriously. How lame. How delusional.

In 2006, if they continue their current obstructionist streak, Democrats will not only not control Congress, it is possible that Republicans could control 60 seats in the Senate. Afterall, President Bush won 31 states, which computes to 62 Senators-worth. A Republican supermajority may seem like a dream (or nightmare, if you are a Democrat), but it is definitely attainable with the right strategy, if not in 2006, then in 2008 or 2010.

Let's look at 2006 first:

Source: National Republican Senatorial Committee.

WILLisms.com believes the following seats are especially vulnerable for Democrats:

Minnesota: Mark Dayton.
There is already a blog up-and-running, devoted to the potential matchup of Republican Mark Kennedy and Mark Dayton. Dayton is very vulnerable in this realigning, Republican-trending state.

North Dakota: Kent Conrad.
The American Spectator notes:

"Democrat Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota is up for re-election in 2006, and Bush apparently intends to do to him what was done to Sen. Tom Daschle in 2004 if Conrad doesn't fall into line. Conrad was rumored to be mulling retirement, but indications are now that he will run for re-election. The White House has targeted North Dakota's Republican Gov. John Hoeven to run against Conrad. Hoeven attended the State of the Union, then spent time with the President on Air Force One back to his home state. According to White House political sources and a staffer on the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Hoeven's political future was discussed.

Now Conrad finds himself in a tough spot. In a state that tends to run heavily red in national campaigns, with a strong rural and Catholic vote, he will be hard pressed to be a highly visible obstructionist with the GOP putting a spotlight on just about every move he makes in Washington. Hoeven is considered a strong campaigner, and popular in the state."

Nebraska: Ben Nelson.
Nebraska is one of the more consistently solid Republican states, and Ben Nelson could be vulnerable if he chooses to block reform. If he crosses the aisle to support Social Security reform, he may have an easier reelection campaign.

Florida: Bill Nelson.
Florida is trending strongly Republican, and first-term Senator Bill Nelson could face a tough race from any number of Republican candidates in 2006.

West Virginia: Robert Byrd.
Former KKK member Robert Byrd, vocal liberal in a conservative-trending state, is not getting any younger. The Hill reports:

"Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) is making preparations to run for reelection for what would be his ninth term.

Byrd, 87, has been negotiating with Paul DeNino, one of the Democratic Party’s top fundraisers, to assist his reelection efforts, according to Democratic sources."

If Byrd decides to retire, the West Virginia seat would be an easy pickup for Republicans; if he runs in 2006, he will have a slight-but decided edge due to his history of delivering pork for West Virginia. There is also no particularly strong Republican in West Virginia at this point.

Washington: Maria Cantwell.
Republicans may be energized following the fiasco in 2004 that led to Democrat Christine Gregoire defeating Republican Dino Rossi in the Washington Governor's race. As the blog soundpolitics.com noted, rampant voter fraud likely helped Gregoire win. Republicans should be fired up to rally behind Dino Rossi; Maria Cantwell is thoroughly unimpressive, even in a Democrat-leaning state.

Michigan: Debbie Stabenow.
A first-termer who won a squeaker in 2000, Stabenow could face a challenge from a stable of Republicans thirsty for a win.

Wisconsin: Herb Kohl.
Kohl could face a tough challenge from someone like Representative Paul Ryan in this Republican-trending state.

New Mexico: Jeff Bingaman.
There has been speculation that Bingaman may not run in 2006; this would clear a path for a contested race. If he runs, however, he is safe.

New Jersey: Jon Corzine.
Similarly, Corzine is likely to run for Governor, which could clear the way for an open race in this Democrat-leaning state. Because of Jim McGreevey's disgrace and a long history of corruption among elected Democrats, along with the lingering effects of 9/11, New Jersey could surprise observers and elect a moderate-but-tough-on-national-security Republican. President Bush's profound improvement in New Jersey from 2000 to 2004 is proof that New Jersey might not be married to the idea of sending another Democrat to the Senate.

Vermont is an odd case, as Jim Jeffords was elected in 2000 as a Republican, but he boneheadedly switched parties in early 2001. He is now an "independent" but caucuses with Democrats, the shrinking minority party. If he had remained a Republican, he would currently hold the chairmanship of a powerful committee, but he, like so many liberals in recent years, gravely misjudged the political winds in America. In 2006, Jeffords could conceivably lose to a Republican in a three-way race due to a split on the left, depending on how that race shapes up over the next year. There is no specific reason to be optimistic about a Republican pickup in Vermont, but it is not outside the realm of possibility.

The only true vulnerability in 2006 for Republicans is Rick Santorum's seat in Democrat-leaning Pennsylvania. Santorum will assuredly face tough competition for his seat from Bob Casey, Jr. For Democrats, defeating Rick Santorum, one of the more conservative members of the Senate, would be a priority. A 2006 Santorum loss would be heralded as somehow equivalent to the 2004 Tom Daschle loss; it would energize liberals, even if they finish 2006 with a net loss in the Senate.

A reasonable expectation for 2006, depending on retirements and other circumstances, would be a two or three seat pickup for Republicans. However, if the necessary chips fall into place, the GOP could pick up as many as 5 or 6 seats in 2006, which would give Republicans a filibuster-proof supermajority.

However, if Republicans control exactly 60 seats, it would lead to the distinct and likely possibility of a liberal Republican like Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island switching parties to give Democrats a chance to filibuster Republican initiatives. Republicans, therefore, should not be content with 55 or 58 or even 60 Senate seats. Over the next few elections, Republicans should aim for a Senate supermajority buffer zone of 61 or 62 seats. Before the end of 2010, this goal is very achievable.

Republicans, as coaches typically say, must take it one game at a time. One race at a time, one election cycle at a time. First thing's first, and for 2006, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Elizabeth Dole has a great opportunity to make real progress on the ultimate goal of a supermajority.


Posted by Will Franklin · 7 February 2005 02:44 PM

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Well, Dayton has officially annouced he's not running for reelection, so there's one that could easily go the other way.

Posted by: Ian Pittman at February 10, 2005 05:17 PM

Definitely. Dayton was going to be easy pickings. We'll see if the DFL can muster up a contender in Minnesota. Al Franken has already put to bed rumors that he is going to run, so that's too bad.

Posted by: Will Franklin at February 10, 2005 08:36 PM

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