It is Labor Day, beginning of the final phase of the 2010 midterm congressional campaign. A quick look at the polling tells a surprising story: Washington has utterly failed to grasp how much may change after November 2nd.
We have all heard about the incredible deterioration of the Democratic Party’s approval numbers on all fronts in recent months. Sunday’s New York Times reported that the Democratic high command would end financial support to some of their congressional candidates immediately after Labor Day. Considering the Democrats have raised three campaign dollars for every two of the GOP and traditionally receive vast uncounted resources from organized labor and their other constituency groups, this move points to a meltdown so massive that even this fabulously financed party is running out of funds trying to turn it back.
There has also been talk that Democratic candidates would run on cutting spending. After jamming through Congress a string of trillion-dollar bills including the widely reviled Obamacare, this sounds like an updated version of the old joke about the boy who killed his parents, then pleaded for the court’s mercy because he was an orphan.
Despite these desperate tactics, it is a fair bet that every GOP House seat that switched hands in the 2006 or 2008 elections will go back in November, a 54 vote shift.
But what about the Senate? Though pundits have not focused on it, the Senate may turn out to be an even bigger story than the House. Until recently the professional poll watchers scoffed at the idea of a GOP majority in the smaller body. Look again.
As of the most recent Rasmussen polls, four Senate races for seats that Democrats currently hold show double digit Republican leads (Delaware, Indiana, North Dakota and Arkansas). Another has a single digit GOP lead outside the margin of error and holding steady (Pennsylvania).
Six other such races are effectively tied, with the spread between the candidates inside the margin of polling error (Illinois, California, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, and Wisconsin). In a final race (West Virginia), the six percent spread exceeds the margin of error, but the Republican has cut the gap by ten percentage points since late July. With the possible exception of Nevada, the Republican candidate appears to have the momentum in each of these seven races.
It is unlikely that any GOP senator will lose to a Democrat this fall. So national alarm at the Obama-Reid-Pelosi government being what it is, the Republicans could pick up a net of twelve Senate seats. There is already talk in Washington of Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent who currently caucuses with the Democrats, switching his caucus if the GOP wins a Senate majority. In other words, the GOP could come out of November counting 54 votes in its Senate camp.
The story doesn’t end there. Top items on the Republican agenda in the next Congress must include putting on the table repeal of Obamacare and replacing it with a market-driven alternative, stopping the spending of unspent stimulus dollars, and renewal of the Bush tax cuts, perhaps moving toward a flat tax, too.
With a fifty-four member caucus, the GOP would have a reasonable shot of mustering from within its own ranks and from among Democrats on the ballot in 2012 the 60 votes needed to break filibusters against this agenda. But could it override the inevitable presidential vetoes?
First, who might help Republicans break filibusters beginning in January? Look at the Senate class of 2012.
The list of Democrats up for reelection will include Tom Carper of Delaware, Bill Nelson of Florida, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jim Webb of Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Kent Conrad of North Dakota. All are from states where dismay over the Obama administration is intense. With skillful GOP leadership (and in the history of the party, Senate Republicans may never have had a more skillful leader than the current one, Mitch McConnell) getting to 60 isn’t impossible on key votes.
Yes, President Obama will still wield a veto. But governing by veto is impossible, especially as the country clamors for a return from hard left direction the past two years have brought. I count six, maybe seven Democratic senators in the class up in 2014 from states as conservative as those above. On defining tax and spending issues, some overrides may prove doable.
Does this mean that the GOP will be able to enact an agenda outright in 2011? Not really. Such ambitions will have to wait for 2013. But getting back to a majority will require showing – as one long-time House Republican said to me this week –“the specificity and passion that our people are looking for”.
If Republican House candidates can find that specificity and passion in the next nine weeks, the 2010 election could turn out to be among the most pivotal in American history.