Monday, November 15, 2010

The job nobody wants...but should!

Senator Mike Bennet has become the most recent Democrat to turn down the job of running the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, i.e. the committee designed to elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate. Evidently quite a few other Democratic Senators--including Chuck Schumer and Al Franken--have also turned down the gig, ostensibly because the Democrats will have over twice as many seats to defend as Republicans will in this election cycle. It certainly seems like the sort of thankless job that nobody wants, but I wonder why it's so difficult to find someone when one considers the following factors:
  1. Since everybody expects the Democrats to lose seats, the bar for success will be low.
  2. Since nobody wants the job, the person who takes it will earn some serious points from the party for being a good sport.
  3. The 2012 electorate will not be the same as the 2010 electorate, and there are a number of signs that the economy, including the employment numbers, are starting to improve. It will be a much more favorable environment to run a campaign than 2010 was for Democrats, which should make recruiting easier.
  4. Obama's 2012 re-election effort will undoubtedly feature an extremely robust GOTV effort that would help Democrats running for lower offices.
And looking at the 2012 Senate battlefield, it seems far from likely that a second bloodbath is even plausible. The Democrats will be defending a very large number of seats, but many of those are among the safest the Democrats have. There's just no way the Republicans are going to knock off someone like Daniel Akaka. The Republicans had an outside chance of beating Boxer this year (that they helpfully squandered, thankfully) but they have no chance of unseating the less-polarizing Dianne Feinstein, or her most obvious replacement if she retires. Ditto someone like Tom Carper or Ben Cardin. In fact, by my count, there are only seven Democratic Senators that ought to be in significant trouble, all red- or purple-state Democrats who could be vulnerable with the right challenger:
  • Bill Nelson of Florida
  • Claire McCaskill of Missouri
  • Jon Tester of Montana
  • Ben Nelson of Nebraska
  • Kent Conrad of North Dakota
  • Sherrod Brown of Ohio
  • Jim Webb of Virginia
There are others that are more of a stretch--Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, for example, is an extremely good fit for a socially conservative/fiscally moderate-to-liberal state and should be safe, but you never know--however, these are the obvious takeover ideas for Republicans. I would have figured Nelson would be in trouble over health care reform but evidently his polling against two established commodities--outgoing Senator George LeMieux and Jeb Bush--looks pretty good. McCaskill's approval looks tepid, but the Republicans are looking to field two-time loser Jim Talent against her, which could help her get another term. The other Nelson's problems are obvious, but he's got a pretty longstanding relationship with his state's voters that could help him stick around. Conrad might squeak by because the ND GOP doesn't seem to have another giant-killer around like they did in 2010 with against eleventy-term Senator Byron Dorgan, and Sherrod Brown is quite progressive but a deft populist who won big last time. Webb might or might not get another term, but there's always Tim Kaine if he doesn't. I'm not saying that all these folks are going to win even if the economy improves greatly, but none of them are sure losers if they run again, and in most of their cases the boost of a national campaign along with some points in their favor should prevent really any of them from being doomed. If a bunch of them retire, of course, things get a lot tougher.

On the other hand, Lieberman's seat seems all but assured to fall to an actual Democrat, Scott Brown isn't likely to stick around when Obama wins 60% of the vote in Massachusetts, and John Ensign is a sure loser in Nevada, especially since he's running again and appears to have substantial Republican support. That should be a gimme in the general election. Throw in Olympia Snowe's inevitable primary loss (another probable Democratic pickup), and maybe one or two other outside possibilities (Janet Napolitano stepping down from the Cabinet to challenge Jon Kyl?), and there's a good chance the Democrats can keep the Senate in 2012. The real challenge will be keeping it in 2014, when you have some real tough ones like Alaska and Louisiana coming up in the traditional "six-year itch" elections. If I were a young Democratic Senator trying to make my name, I'd step up to the DSCC in 2012 and stay the hell away in 2014.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.