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May 31, 2005
Mid-Term Senate Race Tough For Democrats

Ronald Brownstein points out in today's LA Times what has been pointed out here and elsewhere in the blogosphere about the 2006 Senate races -- that Democrats will find themselves in an uphill battle to regain any of the ground they've lost over the past six years. The numbers will once again be against them, as they defend more seats than the GOP and in tougher states:

Democrats are optimistic about their chances of ousting GOP senators in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, states that voted for Democratic presidential candidates John F. Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000. But the Democrats are unlikely to regain a Senate majority in 2006 or soon thereafter unless they can reverse the GOP consolidation of Senate seats in states that have supported Bush.

Since 2000, both parties have gained Senate seats in the states they typically carry in presidential campaigns. But this political partitioning provides a clear advantage for Republicans because so many more states backed Bush in his bids for the presidency.

If Democrats only gain in their part of the map, "it's like saying, 'We're going to win more home games but never worry about road games,' " said Matthew Dowd, a political advisor to the Republican National Committee and senior strategist for Bush's reelection campaign. "They could have a great home record but never win a majority."

Republicans control 55 Senate seats and Democrats 44, with Vermont independent James M. Jeffords holding the final spot. In next year's midterm election, Republicans will defend 15 seats and Democrats 17. And Vermont voters will choose a successor to Jeffords, who is retiring.

I wrote about this seven months ago, just after the last election. I noted the five most likely red-state seats that the Democrats would lose in 2006, based on current voting trends. Brownstein points out a statistic that adds to this analysis, which is that Republicans now control 44 out of the 58 Senate seats from states that Bush has carried twice, while the Democrats control 28 of 36 of the seats from states that went for both Gore and Kerry. Not only does that show that the GOP could achieve a Senate majority just on that basis alone, but it also demonstrates the remaining potential for gains favors the Republicans, not the Democrats.

Normally, one would advise the Democrats to start attacking the GOP on their home turf, but the cyclical nature of Senate elections plays against them in 2006. More Democrat seats will come up for challenge than Republican in this election. They will have to defend against more GOP challenges overall. Even worse, they have more red-state seats at risk than blue-state seats for the Republicans.

Now with the successful arrogation of the Seven Dwarves, those blue-state seats mean less to the GOP than they do to the Democrats, as RINOs like Lincoln Chaffee and Olympia Snowe will not be seen as great losses for most within the Republican Party. The only blue-state race that means anything will be Rick Santorum's re-election in Pennsylvania, which does promise to be a tough contest. Ken Mehlman has worked hard to improve his chances for re-election by campaigning heavily in African-American districts, with some success.

Compare the possible loss of three seats, only one of which reliably voted for the GOP, against the five that the Democrats have at risk. Only Robert Byrd's might be considered a likely Democratic hold, and only if the doddering Byrd runs again for the seat, a probability at this point. The rest of the four will have to defend the continuing obstructionism of their caucus, a losing electoral strategy that led to a loss of four seats in the last election. Any promises to work with the Bush administration will lose any credibility in the face of the unprecedented onslaught of filibusters on executive appointments. Voters will remember Ken Salazar's promises to Colorado voters to support up-or-down votes in the Senate, only to turn around and support the knee-jerk filibusters that Harry Reid demanded.

The key for Republicans will be to run candidates in these contests who can articulate the conservative policy positions in a naturally attractive way, and who will stick to their principles after election, rather than those who value clubbiness and the "comity" of surrender to the minority. It would also help to have Senate leadership that can look at these numbers and understand that the GOP represents the majority -- and start to act accordingly.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 31, 2005 6:44 AM

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