A good column by political analyst Charlie Cook of National Journal outlines both parties’ chances in the 2010 mid-term elections. Cook sees opportunities for both, with the House of Representatives being ripe territory for the GOP, while the Senate representing a chance for Democrats to essentially hold even. We should say that Democratic majorities are so large that gaining seats is becoming almost mathematically impossible. However, the flip side is that a small loss of seats can be legitimately considered a victory, given how much ground the Republicans have to make up and how important it is for the “out” party to do that in a mid-term election.
GOP chances in the House are greater because the Democrats’ victories have left them in control of 49 districts that John McCain carried in 2008. It’s safe to say that anyone who voted Republican in ’08 would surely do so again in ’10, given that the party can’t sink much lower. Essentially, the GOP needs only to stop shooting itself in the foot and a natural trajectory will restore itself to American politics, putting them back in the game, if not on top.
The Senate is a different story. Cook lays out the political map. One-third of the Senate comes up for re-election each cycle and this year’s group favors the Democrats. Despite their 59-40 edge (including two independents, Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders who caucus with them, and allowing that a 60th seat in the still-disputed ’08 Minnesota race appears to be theirs), the Dems are on even footing in the Class of 2010. The majority party will only have to defend 18 seats, while the GOP must defend 19.
There’s a slightly larger class this year due to some changed circumstances which changed a landscape that originally favored the Democrats even more. When Hillary Clinton was named Secretary of State, it required that her seat be up for re-election this time instead of its natural spot in 2014. Same goes for the seat of Vice-President Biden, which would have otherwise been exposed in 2012. Not only are these races up in a year which is always a disadvantage to the party of the president, but there are more vulnerable without their famous incumbents running.
That’s not all. Arlen Specter switched parties and became a Democrat. A huge gain for the party to be sure, but they may well lose his seat this November. And finally, we come to the home state of the president of the United States. When Barack won the election, his Senate seat was left vacant. He would have been up for re-election in 2010 anyway, but the process of appointing his successor has been fraught with corruption and bungling, giving the Republicans a real chance to take this seat. This is a race to watch, because I believe it has larger implications. It may represent the GOP’s best chance to regain their toehold in Illinois and change the map of presidential politics along with it.
The collapse of the Republican Party in the state of Lincoln is utterly baffling. Once a battleground state that leaned to the right, Illinois has become a reliably blue state in the post-Reagan era. George Bush Senior was able to carry it again 1988, in an election that was essentially seen as a referendum on Reagan. Bill Clinton took it twice, something I initially wrote off to Clinton’s charisma and political skills. But Al Gore won Illinois easily in 2000, and John Kerry ran away with it in 2004. Even had a native son not been on the ballot in 2008, the trend would have continued.
What happened? Illinois is not the northeast or the Left Coast, with huge throngs of liberals. The Democrats have their natural base in Chicago, to be sure, but the Daley clan remains among the more socially traditional members of the party nationwide. There’s no reason to think support for Richard Daley Jr. would translate into huge success for the left-wing candidates who have a lock on the party’s presidential primaries. But a series of scandals crippled the Republican Party infrastructure in the state, leaving it non-competitive. And Illinois ended up joined with California and New York as huge states that the Democratic nominee can count as his own before a national campaign begins. Conversely, the GOP has only Texas in its corner.
Controlling a state because of one party’s scandals and incompetence is different from winning its heart and soul though, and that’s what makes the coming Senate battle in Illinois so interesting. Because now the corruption is on the other side of the aisle. Democratic governor Rod Blagojevich was forced from office after it was revealed he was openly considering how much an appointment to fill Barack’s seat (something he had power to decide) would be worth. Needless to say this didn’t reflect well on the eventual appointee Roland Burris, in spite of a lack of evidence that Senator Burris paid to play. If the winds of corruption are blowing differently, the Democratic hold on Illinois could disappear as suddenly as it appeared.
Up and down the state of Lincoln that are too many small towns and rural areas that fit the profile of areas the Republicans should be doing well in. The size of Chicago will mean the GOP can never dominate the state, but there’s no reason it should be bluer than Pennsylvania, Ohio or Michigan. Of course the GOP lost all of those states in 2008, and they’ve lost both Pennsylvania and Michigan five straight times. But they’re at least competitive. How they can get over the top will have to be the subject of another column. For now, it’s just a question of how they can get back in the game in Illinois.
The longer it takes the GOP party infrastructure to get its act together, the more it will risk the Democratic hold on the state becoming embedded, particularly with a popular native president in office. All eyes should be on Illinois as they maneuver for the coming Senate campaign in 2010.