- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

By capturing all five open Southern Senate seats that were vacated by retiring Democrats, the Republican Party consolidated its hold on the Senate. Currently wielding a relatively sizable de facto majority of 55 to 45, the GOP will likely maintain its monopolization of the committee chairmanships and the Senate’s agenda throughout President Bush’s second term. The GOP caucus of 55 senators reflects an increase of 45 percent since 1978, when only 38 senators were Republicans.

It is no secret how dispirited Senate Democrats have become after spending the better part of the past 10 years and nearly 15 of the past 24 years in the minority. Compounding their despair is the belief that this status is unlikely to change anytime soon. Indeed, several of them — reportedly including not only Jon Corzine of New Jersey but also seemingly safe-seat occupants Charles Schumer of New York and Chris Dodd of Connecticut — are now seriously considering leaving the chamber to run for governor. If Mr. Dodd, who last week won re-election with nearly two-thirds of the vote, and Mr. Schumer, whose blue state just gave John Kerry nearly 60 percent of its vote, are considering bolting the Senate, one must wonder how the 16 Democratic senators who represent states won by Mr. Bush must feel now.

A number of them, such as Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Max Baucus of Montana, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, comprise the moderate wing of the Senate’s Democratic caucus. Half of them appear to have safe seats. With their latest victory margin in parentheses, this bloc presumably would include Sens. Robert Byrd (58 percentage points) and Jay Rockefeller (26) of West Virginia, North Dakota Sens. Byron Dorgan (37) and Conrad (23), Mr. Baucus (31), Mr. Bayh (24), Sen. Harry Reid (26) of Nevada and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (23) of New Mexico.

While red-state Democratic senators tend to be relatively less liberal than their blue-state counterparts, that is not always the case. Witness Tom Harkin of Iowa. By virtue of winning their seats in states that voted for President Bush, these Democrats have demonstrated that they are good politicians. Many of them, however, must know that they are vulnerable. This is especially true for those moderates whose liberal leanings are less well known to their constituents than their conservative votes, which they tend to emphasize back home.

In particular, consider the votes by these red-state Democrats involving 10 appellate-court nominees. Apart from Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, who has repeatedly voted to end Democratic filibusters against these nominees, nearly all of these red-state Democrats have consistently supported these filibusters. In doing so, they have denied an up-or-down vote for these nominees, all of whom clearly would have been approved by a majority of the Senate. Florida’s Bill Nelson joined Nebraska’s Ben Nelson to end the filibuster against Miguel Estrada, and Mrs. Lincoln voted to end the filibusters against two 6th Circuit nominees. On all other cloture votes involving the 10 appellate nominees, however, in no other instance did any of these red-state Democrats cast a vote to end any of the filibusters.

In these more polarized times, it has become much more difficult for liberal senators and self-styled moderates to hide from their liberal votes. Witness last week’s consequences suffered by liberal Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who lost his re-election bid in South Dakota after his left-wing voting record and his role as “chief obstructionist” were relentlessly exposed. The advent of the Internet, moreover, has facilitated such exposure, making it far easier for conservatives to bypass the oftentimes incumbent-friendly local media.

Admittedly, the soon-to-be-87 Mr. Byrd, who garnered 78 percent of the vote in 2000, and Mr. Rockefeller, the 67-year-old who cruised to re-election with 63 percent of the vote in 2002, seem assured of representing West Virginia for as long as they want, notwithstanding that the once-solidly Democratic state voted for Mr. Bush twice. But the Democratic Party must ask itself: What will happen to those seats, and others occupied by comparably entrenched Democrats, when the incumbents retire?

Last week’s Southern experience offers an answer that should provide great discomfort for Democrats. Excluding North Carolina’s freshman senator John Edwards, who probably could not have won re-election, the other four retiring Southern Democratic incumbents from Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina won their last elections by an average of more than 21 points. Democratic candidates contesting those four seats this year averaged 44 percent of the vote and lost by an average of 9 points.

Eight of the 16 red-state Democrats won their last elections with more than 60 percent of the vote. If they feel comfortably entrenched, they ought to review Mr. Daschle’s electoral history. Before being ousted last week, Mr. Daschle won his two previous re-election bids with 65 percent (1992) and 62 percent (1998) of the vote.

Mr. Daschle’s experience is hardly unique. The Republican Party has increased its representation in the Senate by 45 percent since 1978 by defeating numerous comparably entrenched Democrats, whose political corpses litter the electoral graveyard. In 1980 alone, to achieve the end of the longest one-party domination of the Senate in U.S. history, Republican candidates defeated Georgia’s four-term Sen. Herman Talmadge, who received 72 percent of the vote in 1974; Idaho’s four-term Sen. Frank Church, who won his 1974 race by 14 points; North Carolina’s Robert Morgan, who succeeded the retiring Sam Ervin by winning 62 percent of the vote in 1974; Washington’s six-term Sen. Warren Magnuson, who won his 1974 race by 25 points; and Wisconsin’s three-term Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who won his 1974 race by 26 points.

Iowa’s liberal Sen. Harkin should take note of his two liberal predecessors. Dick Clark, who won his Iowa seat by 11 points in 1972, lost in 1978. Two years later, liberal John Culver, who won by 5 points in 1974, lost by 7 points six years later to Charles Grassley, who just won his fifth term.

Over the next several years, there will undoubtedly be numerous cloture votes on judicial nominees and crucial votes on other pivotal issues. As a public service, The Washington Times editorial page will be scrutinizing and publicizing the votes of 16 red-state Democrats. We’ll also keep an eye on the four blue-state Democrats (Maria Cantwell of Washington, New Jersey’s Mr. Corzine, Mark Dayton of Minnesota and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan) who won narrow victories in 2000 and face voters again in 2006.

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