I started working on this post in mid May and put it aside the day the Iraq supplemental bill passed. In the aftermath of the Democratic capitulation to the lame duck White House warlords, I found it somewhat difficult to focus on the upcoming election, frustrated and disappointed by the results.
Eventally, the anger subsided and I accepted what I knew all along: the lesson from the Iraq vote MUST be this: a Congressional Democratic majority is simply not enough.
A razor thin majority in the US Senate is impotent, particularly when we don't control the White House. And, as long as we don't have a filibuster-proof SIXTY SEATS, we will be handcuffed, hoodwinked and outmaneuvered by a smart and crafty minority.
We need to harness the anger and find a way to attain 60 seats SOONER rather than LATER.
At first glance the task ahead is daunting. The majority of Republican incumbents running in 2008 reside in Red States. In an effort to determine which of these is more purple than the others, I created a Vulnerability Score for each of the 21 races.
First, some acknowledgements - back in February, brownsox posted about getting to 60 by the 2010 midterms, which certainly seems doable, although we can’t assume the current state of chaos in the Republican Party will continue past the end of the Bush/Cheney regime. We need to seize the current opportunity and expand the majority now.
In recent days, two kossacks have started the conversation, mehitabel9 and plf515, and at plf515’s suggestion, I’m going to expand upon their initial observations. Of course, another excellent source for Senate 2008 news is, Senateguru2008, whose blog does an excellent job following the latest in senate campaign news.
Their analysis makes predictions built on a mixture of raw data and current events. I aim to expand on their work by building a "Vulnerabilty Score," incorporating campaign finances, approval ratings, and local partisan sentiment, as measured by Bush's approval ratings and Democratic party strength.
This is the first of three posts. This post will briefly look at how the "Inside the Beltway experts" view the upcoming cycle. The second will explain the Vulnerabilty Scoring system. The third will take a closer look at the most vulnerable incumbents.
I'll acknowledge that attaining the goal of 60 seats is lofty and, as such, the analysis may occassionally venture into the realm of “wishful thinking.”
But, if we look back at the 2006 midterms, even the biggest dreamers of 2005 wouldn’t have anticipated a six seat pickup and a Democratic majority in the 2006 midterms. So, I say, let’s set our goals high – and dare to dream!
I haven't always been of this opinion. When Chris Cillizza from the WaPo's blog "The Fix" initially wrote two possible scenarios for the Dems reaching the bullet-proof 60 Senate Seats in April, I shook my head in disbelief, particularly when he argued there may be an outside chance of getting there in ONE ELECTION CYCLE
I was concerned that this might be the start of setting unreasonable expectations and, if the MSM and the Democratic base both bought into the idea we could win NINE seats in 2008, anything short of that would be viewed as a failure.
But, after the surrender on Iraq, my opinion changed. The stakes are simply too high to be content with incremental change.
Additionally, the ongoing national shift away from the Republicans has shifted the playing field. By virtually every measuremnt, Republicans are in freefall:
1) Recruiting – during this critical recruiting stage, the NRSC has failed to convince one single top-tier challenger to take on a Democratic incumbent
2) Fundraising – breaking a long-standing money advantage, GOP committees and candidates are raising money far slower than Democrats
3) Party ID – a majority of Americans (including leaners) now identify as Democrats, according to Gallup.
4) Voter Enthusiasm - Public interest in the Democratic presidential race is way ahead of the Republicans battle, as TV ratings indicate.
5) Public Support Rasmussen Polling reports that Democrats have the advantage on ALL TEN KEY ISSUES, the first time this has happened in the decade Rasmussen has been asking.
And, while the Republicans continue their retreat, the Democrats are on offense and expanding the playing field, according to The Hill:
While the DSCC has shifted its recruiting focus to less vulnerable seats in states such as Kentucky and Texas, the NRSC is still looking for candidates to tackle top targets in Louisiana, Montana and South Dakota. In Colorado, former Rep. Scott McInnis (R) unexpectedly dropped out of the open-seat race, leaving another hole to fill.
So, how can we get to 60? And, can it be done in 2008?
To begin with, let’s acknowledge that any path toward the Filibuster Proof 60 requires the Dems to hold onto all 12 seats they’re defending in 2008 - including a solid defense of the two potentially vulnerable seats (LA & SD). So, I'm going to begin with these assumptions: Landrieu finds a way to squeak through despite the Katrina-related loss of African American and a healthy Johnson returns to the Senate in the next few months, able and willing to undergo a re-election campaign.
A brief review of how the MSM "experts" view the 2008 cycle:
Washington Post "The Fix"
Cillizza's "fast track" scenario identified nine seats that could be competitive (keep in mind he’s writing in mid-April):
There are five obvious pickup opportunities for Democrats even at this early stage of the cycle: the open seat in Colorado as well as seats currently held by Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Norm Coleman (Minn.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), and John Sununu (N.H.).
Right now four Republican Senators up for re-election are regularly mentioned as serious retirement possibilities: Sens. Pete Domenici (N.M.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and John Warner (Va.).
He identifies three other potential pickups that might be available if things broke our way, a candidate stumbled, or the national wave in 2006 was just a precursor to a tsunami in 2008. He argues that Oklahoma (Inhofe), North Carolina (Dole), and Kentucky (McConnell) as outside possibilities.
CQ Politics Ratings
This week, CQ Politics came out with its new ratings for the 2008 races, and the surprise entrant among the five most vulnerable Republican seats was Liddy Dole(NC). The other four were CO, ME, NH, and MN, which appear on most every prognosticator’s list.
In addition to the top five, CQ lists nine additional seats that could potentially be in play, if the national anti-GOP sentiment continues to grow, incumbents retire or the Democrats field a strong candidate. They are: Alabama, Georgia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia
CQ rates seven states as SAFE GOP: Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Wyoming (Enzi)
Cook Political Report
Lastly, the experts over at the Cook Political Report also come out this week with their own updated ratings, which are here. In addition to the Colorado seat rated as a “Toss-Up”, the experts there identify MN, ME (lean Rep) and then NH, NC, NM, and OK (likely Rep) as the seats most vulnerable to a Democratic pickup. At this point, they rate the remaining 15 seats as "Solidly Republican" - although retirements could shakeup that list.
Expert Forecasts on GOP "possible seats in play"
CQ Politics: fourteen
Cook Political: eleven
(the figures above include possible retirements)
These experts are traditionally cautious in their forecasts, especially 18 months before an election. Since there is general agreement on the top tier (CO, NH, ME, MN, OR and perhaps NC), my goal is to move beyond the "low-hanging fruit" and determine where our energies might pay off with the additional four-five Senate seats needed to lift the Democrats over the filibuster hurdle.
COMING SUNDAY: The Vulnerability Score