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Democrats Reeling Under Losses of Veteran Lawmakers, Declining Poll Numbers

Tuesday, 16 Feb 2010 12:38 PM

Facing one of the angriest electorates in decades and a growing number of retirements from veterans in supposedly safe seats, Democrats are bracing for huge losses this year and the possible loss of both the House and the Senate to the GOP.

In Indiana, the retirement of Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh gives the Republicans a stronger chance of seizing a seat that was on their radar only recently.

With the popular Bayh off the ballot, CQ Politics changed the rating of the Indiana Senate race to “Leans Republican” Tuesday, superseding the previous rating of "Leans Democratic."

Bayh, 54, a former two-term Indiana governor who has never lost an election, announced Monday he won’t seek a third six-year Senate term.

There is “too much partisanship and not enough progress” in Congress, he said at a news conference in Indianapolis.

“Bayh’s decision gives Republicans another excellent takeover opportunity,” Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, told Bloomberg News. Democrats now may lose as many as eight Senate seats in November, he said. Republicans need to capture 10 to regain control.

Public sentiment toward Washington is sour, Bloomberg pointed out. A CBS News-New York Times poll on Feb. 12 reported that 75 percent of respondents disapproved of the job Congress is doing, the highest level since March 1992. A Quinnipiac University poll a day earlier found that 73 percent said they were dissatisfied with the country’s direction.

Indiana illustrates the tough conditions facing Democrats, especially when their more conservative members retire. Indiana votes Republican more often than not in federal statewide races, CQ pointed out. It backed a Republican for president in every election from 1968 to 2008, when Indiana narrowly voted for Barack Obama.

But the political environment will be much more challenging for Democrats this year, at the midpoint of Obama's first term.

With the ratings change in Indiana, Democrats are projected to hold 51 Senate seats after the November election, or eight fewer than they hold today, according to CQ’s latest analysis. The Republicans are favored to hold 41 seats, and eight are too close to call.

But the election is months away, and momentum is gaining among Republicans, especially with the growth of anti-tax tea party candidates the GOP is courting aggressively.

Democrats have been particularly on edge since last month, when Republican Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat that the late Edward Kennedy, a Democrat, had occupied for almost a half-century. That cost Democrats the 60th vote they need to break Republican filibusters.

The losses will “dramatically change the legislative dynamic on Capitol Hill,” Rothenberg said. “There really will be an incentive for bipartisanship, certainly by the White House and the Democratic leadership.”

Republicans cast Bayh’s move as a reflection on the Democratic Party.
“Moderate Democrats across the country are running for the hills because they sold out their constituents and don’t want to face them at the ballot box,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., told The Hill on Tuesday that Bayh realized he probably would lose to one likely challenger, conservative Dan Coats, a former U.S. senator from Indiana.

"The fact is, there was no way in the world that Evan Bayh was going to beat Dan Coats, so I kind of expected that to happen," Inhofe said on KTOK 1000 AM radio in Oklahoma City. "It's just like Chris Dodd's situation. He knew he was going to lose, so he bowed out."

Charlie Cook, publisher of the independent Cook Political Report, said, “Capitol Hill is not a happy place these days.”

Democrats’ majority in the Senate after November “will likely be razor thin,” Cook said. In addition, “there is an increasing likelihood that Democrats will lose the House.”

Bayh is the third unappointed Democratic senator to announce plans not to seek re-election this year, in addition to Connecticut’s Christopher Dodd and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.

Dorgan and Dodd announced last month they weren’t seeking re-election. Republicans also are in a position to gain the Delaware seat that Vice President Joseph Biden occupied for almost four decades, according to the Cook Report.

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