Tag Archives: Senate

Obama and the Value of Going Wide

One of the impressive things about the Obama campaign, and Democrats in general this cycle, is its aggressiveness in going after not just a win, but a wide, convincing win. Obama is doing this by actually implementing a 50 State Strategy, which is just about unprecedented in modern campaigning. Democrats in the Senate are going wide by explicitly aiming for 11 GOP held seats, which give the Democrats 62 Senate seats, an unfilibusterable majority and the largest for either party since 1967.

I think what the Obama campaign is going for here is linked to two points made by Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein. Yglesias:

If Obama wins the election, marginal Democratic members of congress will face a basic choice. They can decide that their political interests will be served by making the Obama administration a “success” and agree to pass stuff that resembles what he’s proposed. Or they can decide that their interests will be served by distancing themselves from every controversial administration initiative. If they choose the former, marginal Republicans will feel pressure to get on board. If they choose the latter, marginal Republicans will stand firm. What will happen? I’m not sure. The ideological distance within the party is much narrower than in 1977 and 1993, but I worry that the incentives are still bad and encourage defection rather than discipline. Either way, though, I think the key decision-makers will be in congress rather than in the White House.


We talked a lot in the presidential primary about theories of change, but the simplest theory of change is 60 votes in the Senate.

I don’t know that it will necessarily take 60 Democrats in the Senate to implement a President Obama’s agenda, but that would be the easiest way. However, winning 9 GOP held seats is a tall task, even given the favorable environment for Democrats. The real key to being able to get anything done is a President’s ability to build political coalitions. That task becomes much, much easier after the type of resounding win that Obama and the Senate Democrats are aiming for than after a narrow win. In running in all 50 states Obama’s clear goal is to run up his margin of victory in places like New England, New York and California while holding his margin of defeat down in states like Texas, Alabama and Alaska. That is a mirror of Bush’s strategy from 2004, where he invested a lot of effort into running up the margins in conservative areas.

The real consequence of such a strategy is a large margin in the popular vote, which is useless in terms of getting elected but essential to governing. A President can’t really do anything without a mandate. Winning the popular vote is the only way to really achieve a mandate. In 1980 Reagan won a convincing majority on an agenda of tax cuts. Lo and behold he was able to pick off a lot of Democrats to vote for his tax cuts and keep the rest from filibustering. In 1992 Clinton won, but won without getting a majority of the popular vote. Republicans in Congress responded by holding firm against his healthcare, spending and social agenda.

To me, the clearest path to 60 votes in the Senate isn’t winning all 9 seats but rather winning several and giving a lot of supposedly safe Republicans uncomfortably close elections, combined with a relatively convincing majority in the popular vote for Obama. Does anyone really think that Republicans like George Voinovich or Judd Gregg, let alone Arlen Specter or Olympia Snowe, will go along with filibusters against popular Democratic legislation after watching a dozen or so of their colleagues be voted out in 4 years and facing off with a President who has the majority of the public behind him? Even hard line ideologues like Jim Demint and Tom Coburn would have second thoughts if Democrats run beat expectations but still lose in places like North Carolina, Texas or Mississippi.

The single best way to get good legislation through the Senate is to do what the Republicans did for years to Democrats; convince the other side that they will lose elections if they vocally oppose Democratic proposals. When Republicans appeared ascendant there was a cottage industry for Democrats like Max Baucus, John Breaux and Zell Miller who were afraid of voting with Democrats for fear of losing. Hence, Democrats were rarely able to stop Republican legislation.

Fear is healthy for legislators. Winning wide majorities is the way to provide them with it.

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Gee, You Think Tom Davis Might Be a Little Bitter?

Tom Davis, in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

“A convention restricts you to talk to 5,000 party activists where they ask you, ‘OK, now if you’re raped by an in-law and the mother’s life was in danger, you would allow an abortion? Oh, well, you’re not good enough for me.’ That’s what it comes down to. It’s ridiculous,” Davis told the paper.

If I were Tom Davis I’d be pretty bitter too. Davis would have had a very decent chance in the Senate race against Mark Warner. He could have at least held Warner’s margin down in Northern Virginia and would have run stronger in other parts of the state. But fortunately the GOP decided that value ideological purity above winning. Hence, Jim Gilmore or Bob Marshall. Larry Sabato is right.

“The Virginia Republican Party would rather be right than be president, senator or governor, and I mean ‘right’ in an ideological sense,” Sabato said.

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I Knew the GOP was in Trouble…

But this is just crazy. Mitch McConnell is losing to serial candidate, two time gubernatorial loser Bruce Lunsford. Mitch McConnell. The GOP leader in the Senate.

Now, its very, very, very unlikely that McConnell will actually lose. But the fact that this is even remotely competitive is astounding. Lunsford is only the nominee after Democrats tried and failed to get the Attorney General and State Auditor to run. If McConnell is forced to spend real time and money defending his Senate seat that will be a huge win for the Democrats. Combine that with polls showing competitive races in Texas, North Carolina and Mississippi, none of which are top tier opportunities, and the Republican party really is looking at a potentially historic wipeout this fall. Already, Democrats have great chances of picking up seats in Virginia, New Hampshire and New Mexico. Add to that strong, possibly favored candidates in Colorado, Minnesota and Alaska and strong, longer shot candidates in Maine and Oregon and there are a solid 12 seats potentially in play for the Democrats. 60 seats is still incredibly unlikely, but now the Democrats only have to win 75 percent of the seats in play to make it happen. Thats doable.

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Warner for Senate

Mark Warner in AbingdonImage by Mark Warner via Flickr

Mark Warner is kicking off his Senate campaign this week. Although the race this fall likely won’t be especially close, its very nice to see Warner taking it seriously and working hard to get the state behind him again. Warner has massive built in advantages over either of his possible Republican opponents, starting with his huge popularity in the state and massive money advantage. Warner is remembered very well in Virginia from his gubernatorial term, whereas Jim Gilmore is not. Gilmore is also locked in a tough nomination fight against Delegate Bob Marshall, who is hammering the already conservative Gilmore from the hard right. Marshall is the most conservative member of a Republican House of Delegates caucus that is already far to the right of Virginia, yet he is popular among conservative activists and is widely viewed as being more consistent and more principled that Gilmore. This race is already at the top of almost every ranking of competitive Senate races including those of the conservative VA Blogger over at Too Conservative, who calls Warner’s position “all-but-guaranteed.”

The GOP’s only chance at this race was likely if Warner decided he had it in the bag and mailed in the campaign, but that doesn’t look likely. He’s running on the same formula that he used in his successful campaign for Governor. This looks like a safe pickup for the Democrats.

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