Alex's Outlook

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

US Senate

Owing to a bout of recent bad news as well as a recruiting disaster in the last year, Republicans have managed to significantly dilute their potential Senate gains. Senator Don Nickles, a conservative of principle as well as politics (as opposed to pork-barrel cardinals like Ted Stevens), has announced his retirement in 2004. The GOP has been a miserable failure insofar as Senate recruitment in 2004 is concerned:

  • In Illinois, former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar would have been a formidable candidate to replace retiring Sen. Peter Fitzgerald and keep the seat for the Republicans. Edgar demanded $2 million in up-front money for the campaign, and GOP operatives said no. Edgar dropped out, so the seat will probably go to the Democrats.

  • Republicans failed to recruit either a popular former governor or a popular pro basketball coach against North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan. A liberal Democrat will thus once again get a pass in one of the most conservative states in the nation.

  • Nevada Rep. Jim Gibbons, a famous foe of higher taxes, elected not to risk his career in a tossup against liberal Democrat Sen. Harry Reid. Reid will probably sail to another term in yet another one-party Republican state.

  • Rep. Jennifer Dunn would have been a tough candidate against Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat. She bowed out. Republicans got half a loaf with George Nethercutt, another Representative who will wage a decently spirited campaign. Still, it could have been a much closer contest.

  • Rudy Giuliani would have toasted New York Sen. Chuck Schumer in a head-to-head contest. For whatever reason, he decided not to run. Another seat now sure to remain in liberal hands.

    Furthermore, Sen. Bob Graham has abandoned a completely feckless presidential campaign. His liberal campaign and vociferous criticism of Bush have weakened him enough to make his seat a remote contest, in a state that has swung decidedly Republican since the 2000 elections. But he will probably hold onto his seat, unless he announces his retirement.

    Bill Janklow apparently won't resign from his South Dakota House seat following his killing of a motorcyclist, which raises the chance that John Thune will run against Sen. Tom Daschle in 2004. Still, it would be a pretty close contest - not necessarily worth Thune's risking his career, from his perspective. If Thune decides not to run, another liberal will survive in conservative territory.

    Don Nickles' retirement will make his seat competitive, although probably not as competitive as the pundits say it is. Oklahoma is an uber-conservative state after all, and 2004 is a Presidential year.

    For those who didn't want to sift through all that, the Republicans have three likely pickups, in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. But the Georgia seat is occupied by a Democrat who is actually more conservative than most Republicans, so gaining Georgia won't be a net gain for the GOP. The Democrats have one, in Illinois. It might seem nice for the Republicans to gain two Senate seats in 2004, but it could have been eight!

    Not all is lost, yet. Nevada Republicans might yet mount a decent replacement for Gibbons. The likely Republican triumph in California could change the dynamics of the Senate race there. John Breaux, center-left lion of Louisiana, could retire, just like Nickles. But it seems like the Republicans have lost a great chance to gain a near-invincible majority in the Senate.


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