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A filibuster proof Senate in 2006

By Bruce Walker
web posted February 21, 2005

The 2006 mid-term elections could be pivotal for a number of reasons. First, if Democrats lose those elections, then the selection of Howard Dean will look like a very foolish decision and movement back toward the Democrat Party of Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman will look like a matter of simple survival. Second, Republicans - having lost seats in the first three elections after the 1994 landslide - have gained seats in the last two general elections; winning a third straight election will make it much easier for President George W. Bush to achieve the grand goals he has set for his presidency. Third, Senate losses will insure that President Bush can transform the federal judiciary, which will have affect an entire generation.

What are the prospects of Republicans winning in 2006? Very good. Democrat tenacity in resisting the mantle of minority status has created the death of a thousand cuts. Redistricting and reapportionment allowed Republicans to gain House seats in the 2002 general election. If Democrats had not connived to perpetuate gerrymandering in our two largest states, then all the damage might have been done in 2002 and Democrats could have claimed victory in 2004 (i.e. gained House seats.)

Instead, the Texas redistricting after the 2002 elections meant that Republicans actually gained House seats in 2004. If the Schwazenegger Plan goes into effect, then the current 34 to 17 Democrat advantage in House seats in California will almost certainly give Republicans 5 or 6 or 7 more House seats, which will mean nationally that Republicans can, again, claim victory by virtue of increasing the number of Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Tom Daschle
Daschle

Opportunities in the Senate are even more appealing. Jeffords and Daschle made the stupid mistake of making President Bush mad. As a consequence, Republicans gained an outright majority in the 2002 general elections and added 4 more seats in 2004. Harry Reid has already promised to filibuster, to scrutinize to death and to resist President Bush and he has lots of helpers in the Senate. National Democrats should be careful, because filibustering may lead directly to a filibuster proof Senate in 2006.

Incumbent Republican senators are about five years younger, on average, than Democrat incumbent senators. That does not sound like much, but it is nearly a full Senate term on average. That makes it much less likely that Republicans will have to fill open seats through retirement. This is compounded by the fact that there are significantly more Republican governors than Democrat governors and that advantage will probably increase in November 2005.

The overwhelming majority of states - and each state has exactly two senators - are conservative and Republican. Consider the number of states the two major political parties carried in the last four close presidential elections: Republicans carried 29 states in 1968 to 16 for Democrats and (Wallace carried 5 states; Republicans, in losing, carried 27 states in 1976 to 23 for Democrats; Republicans carried 29 states to 21 in 2000; and President Bush was reelected carrying 30 states, the magic sixty percent needed for cloture.

Compounding problems for Democrats is their minority party status in the Senate. Tim Johnson of South Dakota would almost certainly have lost in 2002, if South Dakotans had know Tom Daschle was not going to be Majority Leader. Daschle, a much stronger candidate, lost to the same Republican largely because he had ceased to be Majority Leader. These fundamental advantages that Republicans have in Senate races is enhanced by the particular races in 2006. Absent retirements, virtually all Republican seats are safe; Democrats, by contrast, will be defending a lot of vulnerable territory.

Senator Dayton of Minnesota is leaving, having won with less than half the vote six year ago, and Republicans - the majority party in Minnesota now - have already lined up a group of potent contenders, while not a single Democrat has expressed interest in the race.

Two Senators named Nelson come from two conservative Republican states - Nebraska and Florida - and both barely won in 2000. Both could be very vulnerable to serious Republican challenges, another two pickups. North Dakota is a conservative Republican state with liberal Democrat senators - South Dakota and North Carolina both showed how easy those are for Republicans to win.

Senator Debbie Stabenow in Michigan barely beat Spence Abraham in 2000, and over the last four years, Abraham has served four years as Secretary of Energy, which should make him a formidable candidate, should he choose to seek his old seat back again. John Engler would also make a formidable candidate against a Democrat freshman who got less than half the vote in 2000.

Those five races alone could give Republicans the five needed for cloture, but there are other races that look very shaky for Democrats because of the sleazy conduct of Democrats in the state. If Dino Rossi is cheated out of the governorship of Washington, then a sympathy vote would make him a formidable challenger to beat Cantwell, who squeaked by with a minority vote in 2000; if Rossi becomes governor, then Republicans will be much stronger in 2006 to challenge her with someone else.

If Jon Corzine is elected governor of New Jersey, then his seat is open in 2006 and after the likely Republican candidate would be the Republican nominee against Corzine, who would have just gotten a great deal of campaign exposure and, if Forrester or Schundler, would be very run a third time statewide in five years. Add the stench of Torrecelli and McGreevey to the mix, and a Republican pickup would be likely. If Corzine loses, then, of course, he becomes more vulnerable when he runs for reelection in 2006.

Jim Jeffords
Jeffords

Vermont presents another tricky situation for Democrats. Jim Jeffords is an independent, and if he seeks the Democrat nomination, his fig leaf of non-alignment is blown away. In a three way race, a moderate Republican could easily get forty percent of the vote and win his seat. If the Republican governor seeks the seat, Democrats would either have to make Jeffords a Democrat lose the seat, all of which would look rather grungy to Vermont voters.

Hawaii and Maryland have popular Republican governors and very old Democrat incumbents, who might not seek reelection. Could one of these Republicans win the senate seat? Sure. Robert Byrd, who is very old and sounds extremely goofy these days, comes from a state that President Bush carried easily twice. Could Republicans win this seat? Sure. Mitt Romney almost bit Ted Kennedy when Kennedy was much younger and Romney was not a popular governor. Could Romney beat Kennedy? Sure. The only "safe" Democrat is Joe Lieberman, who is also taking the same wise course which his party should take: move to the center, offer reasonable alternatives to President Bush's domestic and foreign policy agenda, and return civility to public debate.

The decision by Dayton not to seek reelection is perhaps a good indicator that Senate Democrats realize the difficulty they face in regaining the majority and the battles brewing within their party over the next two years between the sober thinking of Lieberman and the seething rage of Dean. The result could well be, for the first time in American history, a Republican Senate which can invoke cloture.

Bruce Walker is a contributing editor with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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