- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The political environment got worse for Democrats on Monday when Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son said he’ll pass on seeking his dad’s former Senate seat in Delaware — the latest in a bad month for the struggling majority party.

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden’s decision not to run for Senate and instead seek re-election to his state office denies Democrats their sought-after candidate, and all but hands the seat to Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican and the state’s lone congressman.

Losing the vice president’s seat, currently held by a former Biden aide who is stepping aside at the end of this year, would be on par with Democrats’ loss last week of the seat formerly held by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Coupled with North Dakota Sen. Byron L. Dorgan’s decision not to run for re-election, they mark three seats that Republicans count as confirmed or likely pickups a little more than nine months before most voters go to the polls.

Charlie Cook, a political handicapper, said the Delaware Senate seat is now in the “solid Republican column” for this year’s elections and also said a House seat in Arkansas now leans toward Republicans after Rep. Marion Berry, a Democrat, said he’ll retire this year rather than seek an eighth term.

“All of these guys made the same calculation, that the context, the playing field, was going to be tilted so severely against them they could not win. And other people are going to make that same calculation,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican political strategist.

He pointed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, as others who might follow Mr. Dorgan’s lead and drop out of their re-election races.

But Bud Jackson, a Democratic strategist, said there’s plenty of time for Democrats to turn things around and stem further losses.

“Particularly here inside the Beltway, there’s a level of hysteria that’s absolutely ridiculous, and people just need to calm down,” Mr. Jackson said. “There’s a way out of this. Democrats are going to lose seats, but it’s not going to be a tidal wave unless we screw up.”

He said with Democrats having controlled the White House and Congress for a year, independent voters are getting anxious to see results — particularly with the economy in such bad shape.

With Republicans providing no help for President Obama’s agenda, that’s stalled Democrats’ action, but they have to make efforts on both substance and in how they talk about the issues, he said.

“They have to show results, first and foremost, and without question the No. 1 area to show results is the economy,” Mr. Jackson said. “They also want to show the administration is standing for average Americans, and not for corporate America.”

Democrats did get some good news earlier this year when Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, said he’ll step down rather than seek re-election. Polls showed Mr. Dodd trailing badly, but show other Democrats well-poised now to hold the seat.

And House Democrats point to a five-seat winning streak in contested special elections, balancing out last year’s two governor’s races, in which Republicans took the top offices from Democrats in both Virginia and New Jersey.

Mr. Jackson cautioned against bundling the governor’s races together with the Massachusetts special election, in which Republican Scott Brown won a Senate seat held by a Democrat since 1953.

“In each of these contests, you had three candidates who were not very charismatic or not good campaigners, were not communicating their message effectively,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily this Republican wave as much as, I think, we had some flawed candidates.”

In the Delaware race, Mr. Biden was supposed to be the perfect Democratic candidate to hold that seat. He has name recognition, he holds statewide office and he was expected to have all the financial resources he would need.

But in a letter to supporters, he said he had unfinished business as attorney general that would keep him out of the race for the seat his father held for 36 years.

“I cannot and will not run for the United States Senate in 2010. I will run for re-election as attorney general,” he said.

He said he will instead focus on “a case of great consequence” — that of Dr. Earl Bradley, a pediatrician who has been accused of sexually abusing dozens of his patients.

“One of the primary reasons I ran for attorney general was to protect the most vulnerable among us: children. As the father of two young children, I can think of no worse crime than those committed by child predators,” Mr. Biden said.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, a Democrat and Delaware’s senior senator, said Mr. Biden “will have plenty of opportunities in the future.”

Sen. Ted Kaufman, the Democrat and former aide to the vice president who was appointed to his seat, repeated his vow not to run in this year’s election.

Democrats and Republicans have taken notice of Mr. Obama’s inability to help pull fellow Democrats over the finish line in campaigns.

Mr. McKenna said the Democrat in New Jersey tied himself closely to Mr. Obama and lost, the Democrat in Virginia distanced himself from the president and lost, and the Democrat in Massachusetts seemed unsure which direction to go — and also lost.

The president still has wide appeal for Democrats, but Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed.

Gallup, the polling organization, found that 88 percent of Democrats approve of the president at the one-year mark, but just 23 percent of Republicans approve — the largest partisan gap they’ve ever recorded at this point in a presidency.

“I think we live in a very divided country,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in explaining the numbers.

Meanwhile, another poll, this one from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which measured consumers’ views of health care showed enthusiasm for Democrats’ health care reform plans slipped in December, just as both the House and Senate were pushing for action.

The Associated Press said the poll, being released Tuesday, showed Americans were increasingly worried that the health care plans would hurt both their own and the country’s finances.