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In a 2012 Democratic Wave, Beware Senate Wipeout

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The election this week of a Democrat to a traditionally Republican seat in the House of Representatives is amping up what already have been percolating hopes for Democrats to retake their House majority in 2012.

Make no mistake: I share the aspiration. But at the risk of casting a pall over the excitement before it’s barely begun, I’d like to inject a cautionary thought.

No, I’m not going to waste your time by beating the drum for the old political disclaimer that one should not read too much in the result of one special election, such as the one just concluded in upstate New York which will send Kathy Hochul to Washington as the newest member of Congress.

(If anything, the string of Republican wins in a series of special and off-year elections through 2009 and 2010 turned out to be a pretty good predictor of the drubbing Democrats ended up taking last November.)

Rather, my warning to Democrats is this: Go ahead and get excited about wresting the speaker’s gavel back out of John Boehner’s hands — but don’t forget about the Senate in the process.

Don’t assume House and Senate necessarily go hand-in-hand.

They don’t.

After all, while Republicans were able to win the House in 2010, they fell short in the Senate, and Democrat Harry Reid remains majority leader today.

Imagine what could happen next year if Democrats succeed storming their way back in the House, but Republicans knock Democrats out in the Senate.

It could well happen.

E. J. Dionne, the smart liberal Washington Post commentator, forecast the possibility in a recent column:

Both houses could switch parties, but in opposite directions. The Democrats could take back the House — the GOP is defending a lot of Democratic-leaning seats — while Republicans could take over the Senate, given the difficult array of states Democrats must win. If this happens, remember, you read it here first.

Dionne nails it. Politically, the House Republicans and Senate Democrats actually have the same problem: they each have to hold a number of marginal seats to defend their majorities.

Add to that, this unpleasant math for Democrats: they have 23 Senate seats to defend in 2012, while the GOP has just 10. Republicans have to only pick up four and we would be saying hello to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Democrats will have to win next year in tough places like Montana and Missouri, if Reid is to hold on in charge of the Senate.

The Washington Post already has spilled ink on just how tough it could be for Montana Democrat Jon Tester to win a second term.

Stu Rothenberg, the influential nonpartisan political analyst, predicts Democrats’ Senate majority will hinge entirely on how well their candidates perform in the swing states of Montana, Missouri, and Virginia.

“These three states will probably determine the control of the United States Senate,” he says. “It’s that simple.”

If they were to win back the House but lose the Senate, Democrats would be no better off than they are today with a divided Congress. In reality, Democrats would be worse off.

That’s because the Senate is the upper chamber of Congress, and Democrats would lose important influence if they were to slip into a Senate minority.

The Senate, not the House, has presidential confirmation authority.

A Democratic minority would be on the losing end of either of these two scenarios.

The first scenario assumes Barack Obama gets re-elected in 2012.

Presidents often see substantial turnover of their Cabinet and other officials at the start of their second terms. Obama’s nominees would likely face  a more hostile confirmation process with Republicans in charge.

Then there is the matter of Supreme Court nominees. In his first two picks to the high court, Obama had a friendly ally with Democrat Patrick Leahy at the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. If he had to get any future court nominees past conservative Republican Jeff Sessions as Judiciary chair, the president would be in deep trouble.

The second (albeit less likely) scenario assumes a Republican wins the White House in 2012.

The new president-elect will be assembling his or her administration from scratch, and Democrats would be less of a position to challenge any such nominees if they slid into the minority.

(They, likewise, would be at a disadvantage, too, if the new GOP president had a chance to start naming justices to the Supreme Court.)

So, my Democratic friends, don’t stop dreaming of a House takeover next year. Just don’t forget to fight like hell to keep the Senate blue, too.

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About Scott Nance

  • Cannonshop

    Dee, Tax increases don’t necessarily result in increased revenues OR deficit-reduction. Tax cuts don’t necessarily result in increased economic activity either…


    Both parties are guilty of overspending, both parties are guilty of not restraining their urge to reward their friends and punish their foes using the tax system.

    Tracking here?

    Clinton got his best results at controlling spending, while serving the public, when he was wrestling with an opposition congress. Teh same can be said of any successful presidency. The reason is, I hypothesize, that when the congress and senate are opposed to the executive, only that which serves the national interest will pass both sides (Legislature and Executive), the more partisan or fanatical the legislation, the less likely it is to reach to the status of law. Single-party rule is why we HAVE a PATRIOT act-(well, that and raw, sheer animal panic-the only Dem who showed a backbone in the passage of the original legislation was Jim McDermott of Seattle, a very-left dem representing the most left-leaning district in the Northwest), single-party rule is why a 2000 page law passed without being read, a law that has generated hundereds of waivers-of-compliance being issued along with a good score of state-level suits to overturn key provisions.

    Single-Party rule is how we’re an additional trillion in debt in under two years with little to nothing to show for it.

    Clinton managed deficit reduction in part, because he was able to use that opposition congress to restrain the fanatics in his own party-and he was able to pass a great many things through that opposition congress that would have become bogged with pork and spoils (and spoiled) if he had to work with the extremists in his own party to pass it.

    It is my hypothesis that, for Obama’s term to be successful, (as in non-destructive), he NEEDS an opposition Congress, he NEEDS to struggle with a hostile legislative branch, it’s the only way that he won’t be remembered by the damage done in his term.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    LeeS. –

    Is it on the economy? Is it on border enforcement? Is it on energy independence? Is it on reducing the national debt?

    Well, gee – how’s the economy doing as compared to the day he took office? But wait – you expect that he should have been able to fix in one day what the Republicans took thirty years to screw up.

    And did you know he’s deporting record numbers of illegal aliens? Of course not – Fox News probably would never tell you something like that!

    And exactly who is it that refuses to cut subsidies to Big Oil (who are making record profits while our gas prices skyrocket) and refuses to allow any increase in subsidies for alternative energy? It’s not the Dems or Obama – IT’S THE REPUBLICANS.

    And when it comes to reducing the national debt, who was it that refused to allow the tax rates for the wealthy to go back to what it was during the boom days of the 1990’s – where George H. W. BUSH set the tax rate? It’s not the Dems or Obama – IT’S THE REPUBLICANS. And just to remind you – when Clinton handed over the White House to Dubya, our SURPLUS was such that we would have paid off the ENTIRE national debt by next year! And what happened to that? The Republicans happened to it, with tax cuts for the wealthy, Medicare ‘reform’ that benefited nobody but Big Pharma and the HMO’s, and an illegal war started on false pretenses (Iraq).

    LeeS – put the blame where the blame belongs, willya? Oh, I forgot – you’re supporting the party that is never ever to be blamed for anything….

  • The stupid 60-vote cloture requirement makes the current Senate Democratic in name only.

  • LeeS.

    Dee, could you please define how “President oBAMA IS DOING A GOOD JOB”?

    Is it on the economy? Is it on border enforcement? Is it on energy independence? Is it on reducing the national debt?

    As far as “obstructing”, democrats have a corner on the market. The democrats had two full years of controlling both houses. Nothing is better than it was before. We are around a trillion more in debt and in another war. It also passed Obamacare which is really going to hurt seniors. mayo-clinic-says-90-of-members-wont-participate-in-obamacare-cites-complexity-of-regs

    As far as this article is concerned, I think the author is assuming too much from one election. The republicans pretty much handed it to them on a silver platter. It was more of a circus than anything else.

  • Dee

    The Dems finally are in a position to win seats and Senate unless they open a crack to help the GOP on Medicare. We don’t owe them any help to work with them. I watch Wall stree market. Ryan was a guest and promised all wall street GOP planned to remove all regulations. One speaker said they would get oil up to over $12.00 bbrl.
    Today at 5 pm Larry Ludlow was mad that oil went down when it was supposed to go up.
    GOP says they will do jobs. That means reduce corporate taxes. Only way they know.
    GOP is not to be trusted.Gop will lie and say that Dems are cutting medicare instead of them. If Dems allow that. they are doomed to lose more seats. They signed up they would never raise taxes for Grover BNordquist who is not in congress. We should never allow him to do that. We need a group of Dems to counter and do what tea party does so they will back off. I would like to send out petitions to FIRE those that do not vote to raise the debt limit. We taxpayers are paying GOPto do a job for us our tax payments instead of making excuses and demanding they won’t do what they should unless Dems do it first. If they did this in a corp of business they would have been fired long agoi. We have to avoid helping gop which gives them to lie. amunition at elections. Ryan should use his plan first to find out how it hurts. Elderly people fine those gop youngters are
    too young and greedy to make laws for us.
    We have FIRE them all in 2012.
    Why should we accept all tax promises when it obstructs our deficit reduction? We should insist or FIRE those GOP. Also obstrucks the Oil Subsidies. Shy are we so afraid of them. We have to be more forceful than we have. Instead Dems just want to help GOP so they can turn around and hurt us.

    I hope there are some forceful people to start talking about obstruction and not doing what is right for all the citizens. President oBAMA IS DOING A GOOD JOB BUT CAN’T DO EVERYTHING. He wants to get along with gop but they have not given Dems any thing back in return. That us when the obstruction occurs. Sen McDonnell from the first said he would not cooperate with PRES so he is an obstructor needs to be fired.