GOP Poised to Retake Senate as Disillusioned Democrats Depart

Image: GOP Poised to Retake Senate as Disillusioned Democrats Depart

Monday, 20 Jan 2014 10:36 AM

By Todd Beamon

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Several congressional retirements and a number of vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election may give the Republicans a clear shot at regaining the Senate in this year's November elections.

"There's trouble in paradise for Democrats," Bradley Blakeman, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, told Newsmax in an interview. "Incumbent Democrats don’t like their chances in 2014.

"They've had enough of Washington," said Blakeman, who lectures on politics and public policy at Georgetown University. "They have a record that they would have to defend and a president that they would have to defend.

"I don't like the Democrats' chances if I were a Democrat. Democrats would not only lose House seats, but they're also very much in danger of losing the Senate."

So far, 24 members of Congress have said this year will be their last on Capitol Hill, with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn being the latest to announce he was calling it quits. He said on Thursday last week that he would not complete the last two years of his term because of illness.

Coburn said he was battling a strong recurrence of cancer but did not say that he was resigning because of the illness.

Coburn, whose term ends in 2016, joined seven other senators who are retiring. They are Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Carl Levin of Michigan, with six terms each;  Tom Harkin of Iowa and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, each with five terms; and three-termer Tim Johnson of South Dakota. On the Republican side, Coburn is joining fellow two-termer Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska, who is in his first term.

"Being in the House of Representatives, and frequently the Senate, is not the job it once was," political analyst and pollster Doug Schoen told Newsmax in an interview. "People don't want to be in a body that is dysfunctional, where the ability to make decisions is limited to the leadership — and where legislative results are a precious few."

The increasing demands of fundraising, as well as excessive travel and time spent away from families, are also taking their toll on Congress members.

"The day of the citizen legislator doing what's right at a time when over half of the House and the Senate are millionaires is sadly long since gone," Schoen said.

To re-take the House, Democrats need 17 seats, which political observers tell Newsmax is not likely to happen, keeping the GOP in control of the lower chamber.

But the retirements — coupled with widespread dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama's leadership in the White House and his abysmal Obamacare law — have created a bonanza for Republicans in the Senate.

The GOP only needs six seats to wrest control from a Democratic Party that was swept into power in the upper chamber in the 2010 elections.

Four Senate Democrats seeking re-election in heavily Republican states also make ripe pickings for the party this fall, observers say.

"Democrats have already played themselves out of a House majority with key retirements in Republican-leaning districts," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told Newsmax in a statement. "Democrats made the path to a Republican Senate majority much easier with retirements in South Dakota, Montana, and West Virginia — all states that Mitt Romney carried by a comfortable margin.

"Republican retirements, on the other hand, are largely from Republican-leaning areas.

"But let’s not forget why this is all happening and why the retirements are coming down the way they are: It is because President Barack Obama and his healthcare law are such a political liability for Democrats on the ballot in 2014 and they’re headed for the hills,” Priebus said.

Of particular note are the four races involving red-state Democrats seeking re-election: Sen. Kay Hagen of North Carolina, who is working to beat back five GOP challengers; Mark Pryor in Arkansas, who is battling freshman Rep. Tom Cotton; Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, whose biggest challenger is Rep. Bill Cassidy; and Mark Begich in Alaska, who has three Republicans vying to challenge him, including Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.

"It's a very good map for Republicans," said Kyle Kondik a political analyst for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics in Charlottesville. "They've got a good chance to add seats, maybe even win the majority."

Republicans will also benefit from a generally lower voter turnout at midterm.

"What Democrats are worried about is that their voters are more likely to come out in presidential races and sit out midterms," Kondik said.

Blakeman referenced a report last year by David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report, saying that those voting at midterm have become older, whiter, less transient than younger voters and more Republican.

"Yes, Republicans have to work hard to get out the vote, but if you look at historically who comes out, they've got an advantage there, too," Blakeman said.

But victory is not assured — and the GOP has its own set of problems, including disunity and strong challenges from Republicans within the tea party ranks.

"Everybody knows that they oppose the president's policies," Schoen said of the Republican Party, "but with their own level of support at 22 percent in the latest Gallup polls, the GOP's at a record low.

"Unless they offer people a positive reason to vote, they’re not going to maximize their appeal," he said.

"The Republicans need to come out swinging," Blakeman advised. "It's not enough to be against something; you have to stand for something."

Regarding the tea party, candidates are challenging established Republicans in several in primaries this year: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing Kentucky businessman Matt Bevin; Minority Whip John Cornyn is squaring off against Rep. Steve Stockman and six other GOP candidates in Texas; and longtime Sen. Lindsey Graham faces four tea party challengers, including state Sen. Lee Bright, in South Carolina.

"Republicans have a problem with the tea party," Blakeman told Newsmax.

While its grassroots efforts helped send Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to Capitol Hill in 2010, tea party-party backed candidates lost in five states two years later: Nevada, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, and Missouri.

"They fielded bad candidates in the name of the tea party and cost Republicans five seats," Blakeman said. "Unless the Republicans can get a handle on the tea party, the Democrats could snatch victory away.

"There's nothing wrong with the tea party, as long as they play by the rules of the Republican Party," he added. "If you're going to play as a Republican, play as a Republican.

"Isn't it better to have a Republican in there who you agree with seven out of 10 times than have a Democrat in there who you don't agree at all with?"

That's why it is critical for the GOP to field winning candidates, the observers told Newsmax.

"It just depends on which candidates get nominated," Kondik said. "If there are poor candidates nominated, like there were in 2010 and 2012, it's possible that the Republicans won't maximize the number of seats they could win.

"And if they don’t, they're going to have a hard time in the Senate."

But perhaps most importantly, the Republican Party must develop and execute a thoughtful approach in their Senate contests, Blakeman said.

"We've got to think strategically, and we've got to act strategically," he said. "The mission is the same: It's all about the Senate. The issues are pretty-much determined, but generally speaking, it's going to turn on national issues."

Those are the economy and the Affordable Care Act, particularly in races with no incumbent — Republican or Democrat, Blakeman said.

"You have to remind the people of why is there a retirement: It's because the Democrats could not stand with the president — and, most importantly, because he could stand on his own record," he said. "The Democrats had the ability to lead, and they failed.

"Obamacare has become an economic issue, because it controls one-sixth of our economy, but it is also an issue of leadership in and taking our country in the wrong direction.

"If Republicans stick to the mantra of tying Obamacare to the economy and the issue of leadership and the need to have a check-and-balance on the president — that will resonate."

Schoen called for a new "Contract With America," referencing the GOP plan written by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey during the 1994 congressional races.

"They need a positive agenda of what they're going to do to restore American competitiveness at home and abroad," he told Newsmax. "They need a jobs agenda. They need an economic-growth agenda — and they need an agenda to unify the country."

A new "contract" would give the Republicans "an agenda for the party," Schoen added. "That gives them the chance to unify the party around common ideas and common values that will stimulate the economy and create jobs.

"Then, and only then, do you have a chance to maximize your appeal and maximize the number of seats you win."

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