Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts fallout: more endangered "blue state" Senate Democrats

NY's appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand may lose if she listens to Chuck Schumer

Even before Scott Brown's spectacular victory in Massachusetts yesterday, Democrats were already destined to play a lot of defense in the 2010 Senate elections. Now, more "blue state" Democratic candidates have good reason to fear losing -- as they surely will if they persist in driving tax, spending, health care and counter-terrorism policies that independent and moderate Democratic voters simply won't abide. Brown won an unbelievable 73% of independents, while taking a generous 23% of Democrats. Three is no state -- however supposedly "blue" -- where such numbers would fail to sweep away the Democratic candidate.

So today, for the first time, the prospect of the Democrats losing control of the Senate is actually a possibility. Here are my nominees for formerly "safe" Democrats who should seriously rethink their automatic support of foreign and domestic policies pushed by the left wing of their (and my) party:

1. New York's appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

A former Blue Dog representative when she held an upstate House seat, Gillibrand has spent her year as a Senator flip-flopping to burnish her liberal credentials and head off a primary challenge. Other than that, she's been a cipher -- a nobody who follows Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer blindly. An astonishing 38% of New Yorkers still don't know enough about her to rate her, and those who do split 30-32 favorable-unfavorable. She may yet be challenged in a primary by former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (who gets my vote if he runs), and while she beats him handily in a recent poll, Harold hasn't even started yet. Worse for Democratic prospects, the poll shows tired old former GOP Gov. George Pataki crushing her by 14 points. Imagine if she had an exciting GOP opponent?) This is Hillary Clinton's seat in "blue" New York. But post-Brown, Gillibrand has a big target on her back.

2. Connecticut's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal

Next door to Gillibrand in Connecticut, Democrats were breathing easier after dead-man-walking Chris Dodd opted to retire, leaving the field to the state's popular attorney general, Richard Blumenthal. Unlike Dodd, polls show Blumenthal running way ahead of both of his possible GOP rivals, former Rep. Rob Simmons and wealthy businesswoman Linda McMahon. The trouble is that Blumenthal is another conventionally ideological Democrat, much like that other popular state attorney general, Martha Coakley. McMahon, who can finance an aggressive campaign, says she's staying in to challenge Blumenthal. And guess what? Connecticut voters are even more independent than their neighbors in Massachusetts. In the current toxic environment for Democrats, if I were Blumenthal, I'd tie myself to Joe Lieberman, not Harry Reid.

3. California veteran, Barbara Boxer

Out in California, where Obama cruised to victory in 2008, longtime Senator Barbara Boxer has been vexed by crummy poll numbers, which has drawn a well-financed challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina, who ran only three points behind Boxer in the most recent poll. And that was before Massachusetts! Fiorina is a tough opponent with money. Now, she also has on her side a climate in which Californians may want to throw out the bums in Washington.

4. Indiana's Evan Bayh

Indiana is more a reddish purple than a blue state. Still, Obama did squeak out a victory there in 2008. More to the point, Sen. Evan Bayh (also a former governor who won statewide five times) is as solidly established a Democrat as you can find in the nation (his dad, Birch Bayh, represented the state in the Senate from 1963 to 1982). So far, Bayh has been regarded as one of the safest Democrats running for reelection. But the Massachusetts result, combined with that reddish tint of the state, is bound to fuel GOP determination to unseat Bayh. Unlike so many of his colleagues, though, Bayh has hewed to a moderate course throughout his career, which might keep him safe. That said, all it might take to make this race competitive is a viable GOP candidate.

Apart from these four, Democrats were already in serious danger of losing seats in at least four other states that are often in the "swing" category. Harry Reid is in deep trouble in Nevada, where he has been running behind all of his possible GOP opponents. Byron Dorgan's decision to retire has all but handed his North Dakota seat to Republican Gov. John Hoeven. In Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln is on life support, in part due to her mindless backing of Reid's deeply unpopular health "reform" bill. And Colorado's appointed senator, Michael Bennet, is widely expected to go down.

There are yet more currently Democrat-held seats that were on the endangered list before Massachusetts. In Pennsylvania, where Republican Pat Toomey has a good chance to defeat either erstwhile GOPer Arlen Specter or his primary opponent, Joe Sestak, Toomey's odds just got better. In Delaware, popular GOP Rep. Mike Castle was set to run a competitive race against Beau (son of Joe) Biden. Now, the younger Biden may consider other options, boosting Castle's stock considerably. And in the Illinois race for Barack Obama's old seat, GOP Rep. Mark Kirk, always a strong contender, is all the stronger.

Of course, the GOP must defend some seats this fall, too. But Republican hopes of holding most of them just got better, too. In New Hampshire, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina and Louisiana, GOP candidates now will be running in a generally more favorable climate.

Assuming the GOP holds onto all of its open seats and takes all those I've listed above from the Democrats, the Republicans would go from 41 to 52 seats. To be sure, that won't happen. But here's a scenario that might just: the GOP picks up eight of 11 for a total of 49, and Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman becomes the 51st vote to pass anything, not the 60th vote for cloture. How about that?

What's your take? Post a comment.

1 comment:

  1. Right on. Gilly is a nitwit. Hope she loses.