The Big 60

Posted: October 13, 2008 in 2008 Elections, Beltway Drama, Senate
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While the presidential race is getting most of the press and public attention, recent developments in the political terrain have forced observers and the media to ask themselves a question that would have been thought preposterous as little as a few months ago: Can the Democrats rack up a filibuster-proof 60-seat supermajority?

It’s been fairly clear that Republicans would not be able to flip the Democratic majority in the Senate in the 2008 election, a position confirmed by the McCain campaign this past weekend when they argued in favor of the merits of divided government.

Democrats, under the helm of Charles Schumer, flipped a 6-seat deficit into a 1-seat majority in 2006 by winning every competitive race but one. This year, in an arguably more favorable political environment, they have a historic opportunity to build a lasting Senate majority through the first term of the next president.

If Obama wins the White House, it will be the first time the Democrats have controlled the White House, House of Representatives, and Senate since the first two years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, until the Gingrich Revolution of 1994. If Obama gets a Democratic supermajority in the Senate, there will be nothing Republicans can do to stall his legislative agenda or any nominations requiring Senate confirmation. The same party that advocated the nuclear option as a means of getting around Democratic obstruction of Bush judicial nominees is now looking at the very real possibility that they won’t even have the numbers to pull off a filibuster.

Patrick Ruffini writes that the Republican Party should focus their energies and resources in a handful of Senate races in order to protect a Republican filibuster as an opposition mechanism to a potential Obama presidency.

The NRSC and the NRCC, like the McCain campaign at the national level, are being buried by the Democrats’ massive financial advantage. In 2006, the RNC was able to come to the rescue of these committees. In one case, I believe one of their independent expenditures tipped the outcome with their humorous, effective, and perfectly legitimate ad against Harold Ford in Tennessee.

This time, no such help has been forthcoming in Senate races. The RNC IE unit has targeted one and only one candidate: Barack Obama, with $15 million.

Extraordinary circumstances compel us to begin considering different strategies, including a break with the RNC’s tradition as the Presidential committee in Presidential years.

The RNC’s IE unit should drop at least $15 million on 4 or 5 key Senate races that are salvageable in the last three weeks.

And the decision for Victory to stay in or pull out of states should be heavily influenced by the presence of key Senate and House contests.

And McCain should start explicitly making the argument for divided government, with him as the only hope of preserving it. This is unlikely to be a voting issue at the Presidential level, but we need to get the idea percolating that we are about to elect Obama with unchecked, unlimited power. Power corrupts… absolute power corrupts absolutely, etc.

Obama at 56 seats makes life hard, but a lot more bearable than Obama at 60 seats. The death of the filibuster would be like losing the White House all over again.

Ruffini has a point. The Democrats got their Senate majority in 2006 by squeaking out victories in Virginia and Montana by a few thousand or so votes. If Republican groups had spent a few extra dollars on ads, paid staff, or other resources in those states, Mitch McConnell might be Senate Majority Leader right now instead of fighting for reelection.

I doubt the Democrats will reach 60, given how deeply entrenched the Republican Party is in the South, and the fact that to get 60 they would need to win races in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina. They have no room for error if they want to pull it off. If they lose even one of these races, they can forget about a supermajority.

I think a 55-58 seat majority is more likely, but the fact that even the possibility of a 60-seat supermajority is being discussed right now speaks volumes about the toxic state of the political environment for the Republican Party.


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