- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 18, 2005

First of two parts.

Not since Herbert Hoover was president has the Democratic Party held fewer seats in the Senate than it controls today. And back then (1929-30), there were only 48 states and 96 senators. The current Senate includes 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one independent.

Based on both historical and contemporary electoral trends, the prospects appear to be dim for Democrats to regain majority status in the Senate in the near future. In the 2006 midterm election, Democrats would have to achieve a six-seat gain, assuming Republicans maintain their 55 seats through the end of the 109th Congress. Noting that such a feat has been accomplished only three times (1980, 1986 and 1994) since the 1958 election, CQ Weekly — the authoritative journal that covers politics and policy — has characterized the Democrats’ chances in 2006 as “severely handicapped.”

Recent trends portend comparable difficulties for the Democrats in the Senate. As Ronald Brownstein of the Lost Angeles Times recently concluded in a comprehensive electoral analysis, “the sharpening partisan edge of modern politics has made it tougher for senators to survive — in effect, behind enemy lines — in states that consistently prefer the other party in presidential elections.”

In the past, Northeastern Republicans and Southern Democrats were far more often able to hold their Senate seats despite the fact that at the presidential level the Northeast was moving increasingly toward Democratic nominees and nearly all of the South’s electoral votes were moving into the Republican column. For example, among the 44 states that supported Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, the Republicans controlled only 48 of the 88 Senate seats (55 percent) in those states after the 1984 election. (Then, in 1986, Republicans lost control of the Senate, which they had captured in 1980 for the first time since 1952.)

Twenty-nine states voted for Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996. Following his re-election, Democrats controlled 35 of the 58 Senate seats (60 percent) in those 29 states.

Under George W. Bush, this “trend toward consolidation,” as Mr. Brownstein describes the phenomenon, has intensified in a major way — for both parties. Identical to the support Mr. Clinton received, 29 states also voted for Mr. Bush in both 2000 and 2004. However, whereas after the 1996 election Mr. Clinton’s party controlled 35 Senate seats in the 29 states he won twice, the Republican Party now controls 44 Senate seats (76 percent) in the 29 states that voted twice for Mr. Bush. Moreover, Democrats control 28 of the 36 Senate seats (78 percent, excluding the Democratic-caucusing James Jeffords, the independent from Vermont) in the 18 states that voted for both Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. With both Republicans and Democrats now controlling between 75 and 80 percent of the Senate seats in their respective red and blue states, the Democrats’ dilemma becomes clear: the Republicans’ 29 red states significantly outnumber the Democrats’ 18 blue states.

To the extent that the “trend toward consolidation” intensifies further, the Democrats have the most to lose. There are twice as many Democratic senators (14) in Republican red states as there are Republicans senators (seven) in Democratic blue states.

Red-state Democratic senators (state, the year their seat is up, President Bush’s 2004 victory margin) include Robert Byrd (West Virginia, 2006, 12.9 percent); Kent Conrad (North Dakota, 2006, 27.4 percent); Bill Nelson (Florida, 2006, 5 percent); Ben Nelson (Nebraska, 2006, 33.2 percent); Max Baucus (Montana, 2008, 20.5 percent); Tim Johnson (South Dakota, 2008, 21.5 percent); Mary Landrieu (Louisiana, 2008, 14.5 percent); Jay Rockefeller (West Virginia, 2008, 12.9 percent); Mark Pryor (Arkansas, 2008, 9.8 percent); Evan Bayh (Indiana, 2010, 20.7 percent); Byron Dorgan (North Dakota, 2010, 27.4 percent); Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas, 2010, 9.8 percent); Harry Reid (Nevada, 2010, 2.6 percent); and Ken Salazar (Colorado, 2010, 4.7 percent).

Blue-state Republican senators (state, the year their seat is up, Mr. Kerry’s 2004 victory margin) include Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island, 2006, 20.8 percent); Rick Santorum (Pennsylvania, 2006, 2.5 percent); Olympia Snowe (Maine, 2006, 9 percent); Susan Collins (Maine, 2008, 9 percent); Gordon Smith (Oregon, 2008, 4.2 percent); Norm Coleman (Minnesota, 2008, 3.5 percent); and Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania, 2010, 2.5 percent).

Beyond the fact that there are twice as many red-state Democrats as blue-state Republicans, the following observations are worth noting: (1) In 2006, Democrats will have to defend 17 states, two more than Republicans will defend. (2) In 2006, four Democratic seats (Byrd, Conrad, Ben Nelson and Bill Nelson) will be contested in red states, “officially” defined as states that voted twice for Mr. Bush. (If you consider New Mexico, which voted for Mr. Bush in 2004 but not in 2000, then five Democratic seats will be in play (including the New Mexican seat held by Jeff Bingaman). (3) By contrast, three Republican seats (Chafee, Santorum and Snowe) will be up for grabs in Democratic blue states. (4) Mr. Bush’s 2004 victory margin averaged 19.6 percent in the four purely red states where Democratic seats will be contested next year. (5) Mr. Kerry’s victory margin averaged 10.8 percent in the three blue states where Republican seats will be contested in 2006.

Nowhere has the “trend toward consolidation” been more evident than in the South. Tomorrow: How this trend evolved over the past five decades.


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