Republicans suddenly have a conceivable path to winning back the Senate in November, after locking in top-flight candidates overnight in Illinois and Indiana. A 10-seat pickup for the GOP — once regarded as an impossibility even by the party’s own strategists — remains very much a long shot. It would still require a win in every competitive race, something that happens only in wave elections like 1994 and 2008.
What several weeks ago seemed like crazy optimism among Republican operatives doesn’t seem so nuts after Scott Brown’s victory and in the wake of the Democrats’ decision to nominate a highly vulnerable candidate in Illinois, new polling showing Patty Murray in a potential close race in Washington, a viable challenger for Evan Bayh in Indiana, the departure of Beau Biden from the Delaware race, and continued rotten polling for Blanche Lincoln and Harry Reid. Meanwhile, as COMMENTARY contributor Abby Wisse Schachter details, Republican Pat Toomey is riding a wave of anti-Obama sentiment in Pennsylvania. It does add up.
Charlie Cook’s Senate ratings show only four Republicans in the “toss up” category and that includes Ohio and New Hampshire, which have been trending Republican of late. The Democrats have two seats that are now “solid Republican,” five in the “toss up,” and three in the “leans Democratic” category, which would in any other year be slam-dunks (California, Indiana, and Connecticut).
In the meantime, the cumulative impact of all of this, I suspect, will be to further dampen enthusiasm for Obama’s agenda and for his monstrous budget. Some of the vulnerable Democrats may save themselves by casting votes, not simply sounding tough, to limit spending, reject tax hikes on job creators, and deprive the Obami of funds for their half-baked ideas of handling terrorists within the criminal-justice system. But simply doing no further harm may not be enough. After all, we have serious problems, including double-digit unemployment.
Challengers are going to press Democratic incumbents as to why, with all the levers of power, they did not make progress on the most critical issues we face. The answer, were the Democrats to be honest, would be that they spent a year on a flawed stimulus plan and a health-care plan that the vast majority of the country didn’t want. You can see why the Senate is in play.