Commentary Magazine


What if They Lose all Seven?

Charlie Cook writes:

Basically, there is a real chance that Democrats won’t flip any GOP Senate seats. This is not — repeat, not—to say that Democrats can’t pick up any Republican seats, but their chances certainly aren’t what they used to be.

At the same time, things look very tough for Democrats in three toss-up races: Neither Sen. Christopher Dodd in Connecticut nor Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada is polling well, and the GOP has a chance in the Illinois open seat contest. Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado and party-switcher Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania have to deal with formidable primary challenges before they can even get to what are likely to be tough general election campaigns.

In California, it’s unclear how tough the re-election challenge will be for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. The biggest question there is whether Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, is ready for prime time politics.

Finally, add to that list Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, who is looking more and more vulnerable, despite a lack of name-brand competition.

That’s seven Democratic Senate seats in real danger, and that doesn’t include the Delaware open seat if GOP Rep. Michael Castle runs, or if Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in New York faces a top-drawer challenger.

There are at least two potential ramifications. First, it may be that the bulk of the Obama agenda—comprehensive health-care reform, cap-and-trade, card check, and sweeping financial reform—grinds to a halt. “Do no more damage to election prospects” may be the strategy for endangered senators who can’t sell the Left-leaning Obama agenda to voters back home. Doing relatively little isn’t nearly as bad as doing many things that rile up voters, especially those voters most likely to turn out in a non-presidential election year.

Second, if you are a liberal Supreme Court justice, you might want to hang it up within the next year. Justice John Paul Stevens (if one is to believe the tea leaves, which in this case consist of the hiring of only one clerk) may be thinking exactly that. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may follow. If the Senate no longer has a comfortable Democratic majority, a filibuster-proof one, the menu of liberal judicial-activist judges who could make it onto the Court may shrink. And hence ideologically driven justices may think it better to leave soon rather than risk being replaced by—gasp!—a more centrist jurist.

Trends reverse, and the fortunes of Democratic senators may improve. But if not, the legislation may slow, and the Supreme Court confirmations may pick up.