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Other than That, Mr. Reid, How’s the Senate?

Well, now that Beau Biden has left the playing field, it looks like Delaware has joined North Dakota on the list of  lost Democratic Senate seats: “A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Delaware voters shows longtime GOP congressman Mike Castle leading New Castle County Executive Chris Coons 56% to 27%. Five percent (5%) prefer some other candidate, and 13% are undecided.” So if you’re keeping track, the loss of those two would bring the Democrats down to 57.

Not all was bleak for the Democrats yesterday, however. Rep. Mike Pence told us he isn’t running for the Senate in Indiana. He explained why: “First because I have been given the responsibility to shape the Republican comeback as a member of the House Republican Leadership and, second, because I believe Republicans will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010.” Well, I suppose it’s not unalloyed good news for the Democrats when Pence’s rationale is that it looks like the House is going to flip to the Republicans. Still, Michael Barone says incumbent Evan Bayh is in big trouble in polling matchups against much lesser-known figures:

Evan Bayh is running far behind the way he ran once Indiana voters had a chance to observe his performance as governor, significantly behind the way he ran in his first race for governor, significantly behind his father’s winning percentages in three Senate races and close only to the percentage his father won when he was defeated in the heavily Republican year of 1980, when Ronald Reagan was carrying Indiana over Jimmy Carter by a margin of 56%-38%. …

Evan Bayh did not win five statewide races in Indiana, a state that tends to favor the other party, by being stupid. Now the question is whether he is smart enough to get himself out of the hole Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have dug for him—and which he was willing, when the Senate had 60 Democrats, to jump in himself.

And that, I think, is the real impact of the polls and the Democratic departures/retirements: those struggling not to be swept out in the 2010 wave will increasingly look at each and every vote through the prism of their own electorate and re-election self-interest. Yes, what a novel concept! But that was not the story in 2009, when congressmen and senators were persuaded over and over again to ignore everything else (e.g., polls, town hall attendees, jammed switchboards) and adhere to the Obama-Reid-Pelosi line. That dynamic is very likely to reverse itself — leaving the “leadership” to chase after members, while members attune themselves to voters back home. In this environment, it’s unclear how, if at all, the White House can set the agenda. After all, it was Obama who got his party into this position, and his fellow Democrats may be less than amenable to taking further direction from the guy that sunk their party’s fortunes.