Commentary Magazine


Topic: George Allen

Presidential Race Will Determine Senate

Outlets like Politico continue to write about the race to control the Senate as one in which the Republicans have blown their chance to win an easy victory. It’s true that sure GOP wins have been lost. The Todd Akin fiasco will probably cost them a once-sure pickup of a seat in Missouri and Olympia Snowe’s decision to retire will likely mean a pickup for the Democrats. But a look at Real Clear Politics’ Senate map shows that there’s still plenty of doubt as to whether it will be Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell sitting in the majority leader’s chair next January. With 12 races rated as a tossups and with a Florida seat now called as a likely Democratic win, though still competitive, this is no time for either side to be making assumptions about the outcome on Election Day. Each race needs to be judged on its own merits and the particular circumstances in that state, but the impact of the presidential race will be crucial.

The odds are there will be no partisan sweep like the midterm victories of the Republicans in 1994 and 2010 or the Democrats in 2006. Nor does is seem likely that either presidential candidate will have the kind of coattails that will create a landslide that will radically affect the composition of Congress. But that doesn’t mean the fates of President Obama and Mitt Romney won’t materially impact the various Senate races. With so many Senate races too close to call, the ability of either candidate to create any kind of a groundswell down the ticket will probably be the difference. Though there are too many variables to be sure of anything this year, the party that wins the White House is likely to be the one that controls the Senate as well.

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Outlets like Politico continue to write about the race to control the Senate as one in which the Republicans have blown their chance to win an easy victory. It’s true that sure GOP wins have been lost. The Todd Akin fiasco will probably cost them a once-sure pickup of a seat in Missouri and Olympia Snowe’s decision to retire will likely mean a pickup for the Democrats. But a look at Real Clear Politics’ Senate map shows that there’s still plenty of doubt as to whether it will be Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell sitting in the majority leader’s chair next January. With 12 races rated as a tossups and with a Florida seat now called as a likely Democratic win, though still competitive, this is no time for either side to be making assumptions about the outcome on Election Day. Each race needs to be judged on its own merits and the particular circumstances in that state, but the impact of the presidential race will be crucial.

The odds are there will be no partisan sweep like the midterm victories of the Republicans in 1994 and 2010 or the Democrats in 2006. Nor does is seem likely that either presidential candidate will have the kind of coattails that will create a landslide that will radically affect the composition of Congress. But that doesn’t mean the fates of President Obama and Mitt Romney won’t materially impact the various Senate races. With so many Senate races too close to call, the ability of either candidate to create any kind of a groundswell down the ticket will probably be the difference. Though there are too many variables to be sure of anything this year, the party that wins the White House is likely to be the one that controls the Senate as well.

The fact there are an almost unprecedented number of competitive Senate races this year is a function of the Democrats’ big win in 2006 when they seized control of the upper house for the first time since 1994. That set up 2012 as a year in which they would have to defend far more seats than the Republicans, including some in states like Virginia, Montana, and Missouri where they would be underdogs. Thanks to George Allen’s problems in recapturing his old mojo in Virginia and Todd Akin’s unfortunate discussion of pregnancy and rape, things aren’t lining up quite so easily for the Republicans.

However, this campaign may turn out to have as many pleasant surprises for the Republicans as it has disappointments.

Joe Lieberman’s old seat in Connecticut was thought to be a layup for the Democrats, but thanks to Linda McMahon’s unexpected strength and a weak Democrat like Chris Murphy, it may turn out to be a GOP pickup.

In Ohio, Democrat Sherrod Brown looked to be a shoe-in against young Josh Mandel, but the Republican’s staying power in the polls is scaring Democrats.

Even in blue Pennsylvania, the Democrats have their Senate worries. Bob Casey beat Rick Santorum by a whopping 18 percentage points in 2006, but now polls show him with a slim lead over largely unknown Tea Partier Tom Smith. The Republican may not be able to close that gap, but if Romney, who is also trailing by only a few points, gains more ground in the coming weeks, Smith may be dragged along with him.

All three of these states may wind up staying in the Democratic column, but a strong showing for Romney in all of these states is likely to give a boost to all those Republican candidates. Even though he won’t win Connecticut, if he makes it close, that could be enough to also make the difference for McMahon, who is running ahead of the top of the ticket right now. The same is true elsewhere. If Romney’s surge isn’t derailed by the last debate, it will be interesting to see whether he is able to create a tide that will lift all GOP boats. All 12 of those tossups and even the Florida seat that Bill Nelson looks to be holding onto right now are as much in play as the presidency itself. Which means there is a good chance that the next president, no matter whether his name is Obama or Romney, will be able to count on a slim majority in the Senate next year.

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Still No Republican Front-Runner

The media’s great obsession from the moment Obama took office was to identify the “leader” of the Republican Party. Was it Sarah Palin? Rush Limbaugh? The nonsensical game — for opposition parties rarely have a single standard bearer — was intended mostly to fuel the storyline of Republican disarray and dissension. With the pre-pre-campaign for 2012 underway, consisting mainly of book tours and Republican gatherings, the media is at it again. Ron Paul won a straw poll! Oooh, now Romney won one. What does it all mean? Very little actually. The tea-leaf reading is all a bit silly and very premature.

For once, the Republicans aren’t being sucked into the media narrative. This report explains that the GOP base is stubbornly refusing to select its nominee more than two years ahead of time. Some savvy voices explain:

[Gov. Bobby] Jindal said the current levels of grassroots energy will also preempt any crowning of a favored candidate.“They don’t want to be told who to vote for,” the governor said, referring to the party foot soldiers. “This isn’t going to be a pre-ordained election. There is this reputation in the Republican Party that you wait your turn and then when it’s your turn, you run. I think the voters are saying we want to make the decision, this is democracy, we’ll decide who we want to represent us and lead us.” “The activists would resist any attempt from party leaders or anybody else to try to pre-ordain a process or a pick,” he added.

The expectation among Republicans is that field will grow – and will include names who haven’t previously been considered.

“Every cycle that happens, there is a surprise,” said Liz Cheney following her own address to the conference.

Or, as Jindal put it: “Who would have thought a year into President Bush’s second term, that Sen. Obama would be the next president of the United States?”

And there is little to be gained this time around in being the designated front runner, the establishment choice. For one thing, the base is decidedly impervious to advice from Washington power brokers. (Ask Charlie Crist, if you doubt this.) For another, it targets the candidate for an onslaught from the Obami and their mainstream media supplicants. As Mary Matalin reminds us: “Look at what happened to poor George Allen . . . He got a big target put on his back. If I were thinking about 2012 seriously, I would lay low.” Well, many of the contenders aren’t exactly laying low — they are building name identification (Tim Pawlenty), trying to bolster 2010 candidates to cement potential support for themselves (Mitt Romney), blanketing the media (Sarah Palin), keeping the door ajar (Mitch Daniels), and making fiery speeches to the base (Rick Perry). But there will be time enough to pick the  front runners and assess the field. In the meantime, there are midterm elections to win, an indictment of Obamaism to press, and an RNC to clean up. That should be more than enough for now.

The media’s great obsession from the moment Obama took office was to identify the “leader” of the Republican Party. Was it Sarah Palin? Rush Limbaugh? The nonsensical game — for opposition parties rarely have a single standard bearer — was intended mostly to fuel the storyline of Republican disarray and dissension. With the pre-pre-campaign for 2012 underway, consisting mainly of book tours and Republican gatherings, the media is at it again. Ron Paul won a straw poll! Oooh, now Romney won one. What does it all mean? Very little actually. The tea-leaf reading is all a bit silly and very premature.

For once, the Republicans aren’t being sucked into the media narrative. This report explains that the GOP base is stubbornly refusing to select its nominee more than two years ahead of time. Some savvy voices explain:

[Gov. Bobby] Jindal said the current levels of grassroots energy will also preempt any crowning of a favored candidate.“They don’t want to be told who to vote for,” the governor said, referring to the party foot soldiers. “This isn’t going to be a pre-ordained election. There is this reputation in the Republican Party that you wait your turn and then when it’s your turn, you run. I think the voters are saying we want to make the decision, this is democracy, we’ll decide who we want to represent us and lead us.” “The activists would resist any attempt from party leaders or anybody else to try to pre-ordain a process or a pick,” he added.

The expectation among Republicans is that field will grow – and will include names who haven’t previously been considered.

“Every cycle that happens, there is a surprise,” said Liz Cheney following her own address to the conference.

Or, as Jindal put it: “Who would have thought a year into President Bush’s second term, that Sen. Obama would be the next president of the United States?”

And there is little to be gained this time around in being the designated front runner, the establishment choice. For one thing, the base is decidedly impervious to advice from Washington power brokers. (Ask Charlie Crist, if you doubt this.) For another, it targets the candidate for an onslaught from the Obami and their mainstream media supplicants. As Mary Matalin reminds us: “Look at what happened to poor George Allen . . . He got a big target put on his back. If I were thinking about 2012 seriously, I would lay low.” Well, many of the contenders aren’t exactly laying low — they are building name identification (Tim Pawlenty), trying to bolster 2010 candidates to cement potential support for themselves (Mitt Romney), blanketing the media (Sarah Palin), keeping the door ajar (Mitch Daniels), and making fiery speeches to the base (Rick Perry). But there will be time enough to pick the  front runners and assess the field. In the meantime, there are midterm elections to win, an indictment of Obamaism to press, and an RNC to clean up. That should be more than enough for now.

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