Questions To Ponder, And Time To Begin Work On The 2006 Senate Races
I encourage our readers and even fair-minded opponents to weigh in on the thoughtful posts and comment threads below as to what happened last night, why it happened, what it means for the party and our nation, and what are the critical messages and opportunities that the Democratic Party must take away from yesterdayís bad news. I will be weighing in myself on both the short term and long term problems and opportunities that the party faces in the coming days. Several thoughts run through my head in a Monday-morning QB drill that I always do.
To start the debate here in the coming days, some of these thoughts are:
*Should Howard Dean and Joe Trippi be brought in to head the party and institutionalize their campaign approaches while absorbing into the partyís ongoing infrastructure what Americans Coming Together, MoveOn.org, the Media Fund, and others did this cycle?
*Would this race turned out differently with some combination of Edwards, Clark and Gephardt, even if the base hated Gephardt for his Iraq vote?
*How can the Democrats effectively embrace faith and religion in their political ideology, and how far should they go in doing so?
*Given the aftermath of 9/11, the manipulation of a Bush cult by Rove, and the success that Rove had in generating new voters from the pews to the polls this year on the God/Guns/Gays and the ďall fear, all the timeĒ approach, should we be more appreciative that Kerry/Edwards pulled 48% of the vote and came as close as they did in the Electoral College, or are their legitimate criticisms of the campaign that we must learn from and institutionalize in how Democrats fight campaigns from this point on?
*Should the Democratic Party engage the progressive faith movement and bring them into the party formally as the GOP has done with the religious right?
*Should the Democratic Party take on the media and its corporate bias as one ongoing path back to parity with the GOP?
*The Democratic strategists were quite clear that for their plans to work, turnout had to head towards 120 million voters and beyond this year. Yet turnout as of tonight didnít even break 115 million, and it appears that Rove was quite able to get his side out through value-based negative messages aimed at their base in all congressional districts of consequence. So is the problem one of values trumping pocketbook issues amongst the electorate as a whole, or are we simply the victim once again of better strategy and turnout by the other side?
Whatever the party does beginning today must be looked at as a two-pronged short term/long term strategy. I would also argue that in our contemporary politics, my discussions of the last nine months of a Tier One/Tier Two campaign should also be institutionalized within the party as part of our ongoing campaign against the GOP (as commenter James Kroeger makes the case for as well today). We may not like crawling down in the gutter to fight with the DeLay/Rove GOP, but our path to reclaiming a toehold in the national debate is based on our ability to peel off GOP moderates by pointing out where the current GOP leadership is lying and deceiving the public, their failed promises and extremist agenda, and how we are the party of the bigger tent and consensus building to benefit the public interest and Main Street, not Wall Street.
As the Democrats dig out from under the crushed hopes of last night and ponder what needs to be done in both the short term and long term to regain traction and competitive power nationally, talk and thoughts of the 2006 Senate races come to the forefront. The initial strategy that the party needs to focus on is how to stop any further deterioration in our nation position so that we can lay the groundwork for taking advantage of the coming Bush second term meltdown with a Senate that is willing to hold him accountable and lead us into a better position in 2008.
With that in mind, letís take a look at what 2006 brings us in the Senate races.
GOP: 14 Seats to Defend
Jon Kyl, Arizona
Richard Lugar, Indiana
Olympia Snowe, Maine
Trent Lott, Mississippi
Jim Talent, Missouri
John Ensign, Nevada
Mike DeWine, Ohio
Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania
Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island
Bill Frist, Tennessee
Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Texas
Orrin Hatch, Utah
George Allen, Virginia
Craig Thomas, Wyoming
Democrats: 18 Seats to Defend
Dianne Feinstein, CA
Joe Lieberman, CT
Tom Carper, Delaware
Bill Nelson, Florida
Daniel Akaka, Hawaii
Paul Sarbanes, Maryland
Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts
Debbie Stabenow, Michigan
Mark Dayton, Minnesota
Max Baucus, Montana
Ben Nelson, Nebraska
Jon Corzine, New Jersey
Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico
Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York
Kent Conrad, North Dakota
Maria Cantwell, Washington
Robert Byrd, West Virginia
Herb Kohl, Wisconsin
Jim Jeffords, Vermont
When you look at this list, you see that the bad news keeps on coming. The Democrats have more seats to defend in 2006 than does the GOP. But after you get over that, take note that many of these Democrats are in safe seats from safe states. For example, amongst the Democrats, the following Senators go into their reelection with solid advantages:
Ted Kennedy (even if Mitt Romney takes him on)
Mark Dayton (too much of his own money)
Jon Corzine (see Dayton above)
Hillary Rodham Clinton (even if Pataki, Giuliani, or Bill OíReilly run against her)
Herb Kohl (see Dayton above)
But I donít have a good feel for Cantwellís chances for reelection in Washington state, Bingamanís in New Mexico (although Richardson could run for that), or Carperís in Delaware, and I frankly donít think Feinstein or Byrd will run for another term. This may not be a problem because the California GOP will not be able to run someone short of Arnold to take that seat, and the Democrats have several statewide officeholders who would be able to step in and run for Feinsteinís seat, even though my choice would be Representative Jane Harman. As for West Virginia and Byrd, he may run again just for spite and make the Good Lord take him off the Senate floor himself. So on balance our situation in 2006 amongst the Democratic incumbents isnít that bad, especially if the national scene has turned against Bush and the GOP by that point, as I think it will.
There is room for hope in the GOP and Independent races though. Even if the GOP is defending fewer seats, take a look at some of those incumbents and youíll see some sunlight. First, Lugar, Lott, Hatch, and possibly Thomas will probably be safe for reelection, assuming that they all run for reelection. But Bill Frist is not running for reelection, and Democratic Representative Harold Ford could grab that seat from the GOP. Could Joe Hoeffel, fresh off of a better-than-expected run against Arlen Specter or Ed Rendell take out Rick Santorum especially with labor solidly behind either of them, unlike the Specter race? Would Virginia governor Mark Warner be able to take out George Allen? How safe are Mike DeWine in Ohio and John Ensign in Nevada? And would the GOP make the mistake of targeting both Chafee and Jeffords through the Club for Growth and force both into alliances with the Democratic caucus?
No matter what you hear about GOP dominance in the coming days, it pays to focus on 2006 and what is possible.