Democrats' Biggest Mistake: Depleting The Senate? -

Democrats’ Biggest Mistake: Depleting The Senate?


As the U.S. midterm elections approach, it’s becoming clear that, as election analyst Charlie Cook says, “The Senate is in play.” Because the Democrats have a big Senate majority and because there aren’t all that many competitive seats, the Republicans would essentially have to win all the winnable races in order to gain control of the Senate. But it’s quite possible that they could do that. One thing to remember is that while the U.S. Senate has sometimes changed hands without the House flipping, every time the House changes control, so does the Senate. A “wave” big enough to sweep out a large number of Congressmen will usually mean that the winning party also takes most of the Senate seats that can be won: that’s what happened in 2006, when the Democrats kept all the Senate seats they had already and won most of the close races (Virginia, for example).

Of course this could be the year House control changes without Senate control following along; just because something has never happened before doesn’t mean it never will happen. But the very fact that the Democrats are worried about losing the Senate is a reminder of something that several commentators have been pointing out since 2009: most of President Obama’s political troubles have had to do with the Senate (where it’s much harder to get anything passed), and at least some of those troubles were self-imposed by his decision to pull a number of people out of the Senate. Obama’s own seat is vulnerable, and Delaware, which Vice President Biden represented for decades, is a likely Republican pickup unless GOP candidate Mike Castle loses his primary. Those can’t be helped, of course. But Obama compounded the problem by appointing Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to be Secretary of the Interior; Salazar would probably have had a better chance of defending the seat than his appointed replacement (who is slightly behind). Then there are the people who weren’t Senators but could have been. Obama’s appointment of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to the department of Homeland Security allowed Republican Jan Brewer to become governor of Arizona, which in turn led to the Arizona immigration law. But from a crassly political point of view, Napolitano could have made a go of it in the Senate race against the vulnerable John McCain; she might not have won, but she could have made the race more competitive — and forced McCain to worry about challenges from his left. Others have pointed to Tom Vilsack (Iowa) and Kathleen Sebelius (Kansas) as governors who might have run credible Senate races in their home states; if Sebelius had run in the open Senate race in Kansas, the GOP would as least have had to put some resources into defending the seat, whereas they’re going to hold it without any trouble. The net result has been a situation where nearly all the pressure is on the Democrats.

Not that the Senate problems all come from Obama’s appointments. (At least one appointment, of Hillary Clinton, has worked out fine: the replacement, Kristen Gillibrand, was seen as vulnerable at first, but the GOP hasn’t been able to find a credible challenger.) Robert Byrd and, most especially, Ted Kennedy made things worse by staying in the Senate until they died, rather than leaving beforehand. Imagine how different things would have been for the Democrats if Kennedy had retired in 2008 when his health started to worsen. And as David Weigel points out, one of the biggest factors in the Democrats’ problems was the delay in seating Al Franken, which meant that the Republicans found it fairly easy to filibuster for most of 2009 — and by the time Franken was seated and the Democrats had their theoretical filibuster-proof majority, it was too late to do much with it before their political position became weaker.

Still, I get the impression that the Democrats acted as if their Senate majority was secure and that they could afford to open up a tough race here or there. It’s what Bill James called the Law of Competitive Balance: the team that’s ahead gets frozen by success, while the team that’s behind fights with everything it’s got. I don’t want to make too much of that, since the main reason the Democrats are in trouble is well-known to all — unacceptably high unemployment. (Hardly anyone seems to think the Republicans will fix this with their insistence on tax cuts as a solution to everything, but that’s the party political system for you; the only way to show disapproval of the party in power is to elect somebody else.) They’d have been in trouble no matter what. But in 2009, they seemed to proceed from the premise that the economy was bound to get better and that they wouldn’t be in any more than the usual mid-term trouble in 2010. So much for that.

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Democrats’ Biggest Mistake: Depleting The Senate?

  1. 'High unemployment' is definitely the problem, but it's not going to change no matter who is in power.

  2. Interesting. By freeing up Senate seats for premature elections, they have offered the voters a chance to throw out the incumbent party. Which, it seems, more and more voters are itching to do.

    Only a partisan politician would see it as a "biggest mistake" to offer an earlier-than-anticipated say to the electorate.

  3. "Democrats' Biggest Mistake: Depleting The Senate?"

    Seriously? Hahahahahahaha. You think that's Dems biggest mistake over the past eighteen months? hahahahahahahahaha.

    Look at numbers and please explain how Dems fortunes would be entirely different if Biden and Salazar were still in Senate. The only example I agree with: Dems would be doing much better indeed if Obama was still in Senate.

    "According to new, more detailed Gallup numbers, Democratic advantages on issues like health care, the economy, and handling corruption in government have simply disappeared …… So look at the swings away from the Democratic party: a 38-point swing on health care, a 27-point swing on the economy, a 26-point swing on handling corruption in government, a 29-point swing on combating terrorism. All the progress Democrats had made on those issues during the Bush years has gone away. Is it any wonder Democratic strategists are approaching this November's elections in a state of panic?" Washington Examiner, Sept 1, 2010
    I also wonder why I don't read about how smart Obama is anymore. Obama went to Harvard, for pete's sake, how can this be happening to him?

    It is obvious Dems are in trouble – journos start writing the 'people are dullards and don't understand how brilliant Obama is' articles because that's how liberals and progressives think when they are rejected by electorate.

    "But in 2009, they seemed to proceed from the premise that the economy was bound to get better and that they wouldn't be in any more than the usual mid-term trouble in 2010."

  4. The main reason is high unemployment?
    How about fear of Obamacare and destructive far-left economics.
    You write as if poor Obama was the victim of bad times, but he could've
    weathered better if he wasn't a lunatic in way over his head.

    • If he were a lunatic he would have an excuse. He is not a lunatic.

  5. The Dems are a bunch of ameutures with their heads up the wazu, when all they have to do is get tough with the ILLEGALS and extent Unemployment benefits to help Americans get back on their feet by bringing all the out sourced jobs back home!

  6. Um, how about you create a separate blog where you can put your random foreign politics posts and leave the TV topics in the one called "TV Guidance".

    • I'd prefer not, but I'll try and tag the random foreign politics posts with something that sets them apart (like "Random Foreign Politics" or "The Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club").