Catch-22 for the GOP?

Catch-22 for the GOP?

US Senate

    Might the GOP nominating McCain cause a win-win for the Democrats?

This is not a year to be associated with the Republican National Congressional Committees. As well as failing to keep up with the fundraising on the Democratic side of the aisle, it seem that the GOP may suffer some significant losses in the November Congressional Elections as well.

The 2006 Mid-Terms saw the Democrats win 233-202 in the US House of Representatives, making Nancy Pelosi (CA-08) the first female Speaker in American history. They will be looking to extend this majority significantly, and are being helped by the inequality of incumbency: whilst only 8 Democratic seats are ‘open’ in November, 27 GOP House members are retiring, and the party is struggling to find suitable candidates. The magic number for the Speaker to control is 290 (two-thirds allowing for a Presidential Veto Override). There is no realistic chance that the Democrats will manage that number of seats. Even presuming the Democrats won seats like ID-01 (which is not impossible if Walt Minnick, with the support of Larry Grant, beats incumbant Rep. Bill Sali) Congressional Quarterly considers 149 seats to be ‘Safe Republican’. I would say 250 seats to the Republicans’ 185 would be a reasonable target for the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee).

To put it in context, the Democrats have not won a two-thirds majority since the election of 1976 that sent Jimmy Carter to the White House. The last time that the Democrats managed 250 House seats was when Bill Clinton won his first term – a majority overturned by Newt Gingrich’s ‘Contract With America’ in 1994 that gave the GOP control of the House until the 2006 elections. To secure that size of majority would be a huge achievement for Nancy Pelosi and Chris Van Hollen (MD-08 and Chair of the DCCC).

However, competing with Rep. Chris Van Hollen is Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) who chairs the DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) for his second election cycle, and has indicated that he may keep the job for an almost-unprecedented third-term (only Wendell Ford of Kentucky ever managed three cycles – it is considered one of the most masochistic jobs in US politics). Schumer, fresh from recovering the Senate from the GOP in 2006, is seeking to extend that majority to the next benchmark of 60 seats.

    With three-fifths of the 100-strong Senate, Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) would be able to invoke a Cloture motion to prevent Senate Republicans from using a Filibuster to delay, or prevent the passage of, legislation through the Upper Chamber. The last time either party could unilaterally pass cloture motions was in the Congress elected during the Carter Administration. You have to go back to the Mid-Term elections of 1966 to find a Senate where one party had the two-thirds majority required to ratify treaties or expel a member from the Senate, and no President has ever had to suffer indignity of the opposition party controlling two-thirds of the Senate, with the ability to unilaterally override his veto (or vote ‘Guilty’ at his Impeachment Trial).

A two-thirds majority is almost-impossible: the Democrats would be having to be easily deposing Senators like John Cornyn in TX and Elizabeth Dole in NC, and looking to win states like Nebraska (with Scott Kleeb taking Chuck Hagel’s old seat) at a cantor for that to be even remotely plausible. Even then, it is unlikely that anyything short of an unprecedented landslide would deliver to them Tennessee, Idaho, Mississippi, Kentucky, Kansas, or Oklahoma.

However, the aim of 60 seats is certainly on Schumer’s radar. The Democrats currently have 49 Senators, plus Democrat-caucusing Independents Joe Lieberman (CT) and Bernie Sanders (VT), giving the a 51-seat nominal majority. Assuming Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) hangs on against John Kennedy (no relation, but a former Democrat, recruited by Karl Rove), that Tim Johnson (D-SD) is well enough to run again in 2008, and that the farce of trying to find a Republican to overcome incumbent Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg in NJ comes to naught, what Democratic gains would give them the magic three-fifths?

Former VA Governor Mark Warner is planning to take the Senate seat from his retiring (and unrelated) Republican namesake John Warner, and the Udall cousins (Mark and Tom) are expected to steal the open Senate seats in Colorado and New Mexico respectively, giving the Dems a probable minimum base of 54 seats. NH Senator John E. Sununu is quite likely to lose to former Governor Jeanne Sheehan, and MN could see comedian Al Franken (Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party) topple GOP incumbent Norm Coleman, making the total 56. There are three other GOP Senators that look particularly vulnerable: Ted Stevens in AK, Susan Collins in ME, and Gordon Smith in OR. All three might, just, survive, although I would expect that they might well be outspent as the DSCC targets them with both barrels. If the Democrats did win these seats, on top of those I’ve just mentioned, they would have 59 seats in the US Senate.

The 60th seat is somewhat elusive, and this is where the Republicans get caught in something of a Catch-22.

    Should John McCain win the 2008 Presidential Election, he would be forced to forfeit his Senate seat, as no-one may hold office in two separate branches of government simultaneously. A new Junior Senator for Arizona would have to be chosen by Special Election, with the position being filled in the interim by Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano. She is a two-term Governor, who won re-election with over 62% of the vote, and was selected (along with Mike Huckabee of AR, Kenny Guinn of NV, Mark Warner of VA, and Kathleen Sebelius of KS) by TIME magazine as one of ‘America’s 5 Best Governors’. She is, however, term-limited, which means many suspect she will run for the open US Senate seat whenever McCain retires. Very few people would vote against her winning that seat if the election came within the next two years.

In the first instance, Napolitano would have to choose a Republican to fill the seat, as Article 16-222 Section C of the Arizona Revised Statutes decrees that “the governor shall appoint a person to fill the vacancy. That appointee shall be of the same political party as the person vacating the office”. However, she could choose a weak Republican (capable of being easily beaten in a special election by a leading Democrat, perhaps Napolitano herself), or a even Democrat prepared to re-register as a Republican (very quick and easy in Arizona, though the political consequences of this option would be outrageous).

There is also a bill going through the State Senate (SB1193) at the moment amending this section of the Revised Statutes to reduce the time between the vacancy and the primaries, but to extend the time between the primaries and the general (special) election. Given that short time frames favour better-known candidates (high name recognition) no doubt this bill introduced by a junior GOP State Senator Chuck Gray is designed to allow the Republican front runner an easy primary victory, but also a reasonable chance to take on Napolitano or her chosen Democrat in a special election. Given that the GOP control both chambers of the Arizona legislature, I would expect this bill to pass, so it will be interesting to see if the Governor chooses to veto this bill, or one similar.

In short, whilst the Arizona Revised Statutes insist that McCain’s seat must be given to a Republican, a quick special election would almost certainly be won by Napolitano, and could easily go to another leading Democrat with her endorsement and institutional support. By one means or another, should John McCain win the Presidential Election in November, I would expect his seat to be taken by the Democrats in the 111th Congress.

If the Democrats win 59 Senate seats in November, losing the White House might offer the consolation prize of the 60th Senator being John McCain’s replacement.

It is possible of course that the Democrats will not do quite as well as they hope in the Senate, but should they secure even 58 Senators by election, they will still stand a chance of the three-fifths consolation prize, should Senator McCain carry to victory a Republican Senator from a state with a Democratic Governor as his Vice-President. Indeed, this may be one of the factors that will further dissuade him from considering such middle-to-long-shots as Olympia Snowe (R-ME, where Democrat John Baldacci is Governor), Dick Lugar (R-IN, if Democrat Jill Long Thompson ousts Mitch Daniels in November), George Voinovich (R-OH, and former Governor before Democrat Ted Strickland), or long-time friend Lamar Alexander (R-TN, and Governor before incumbent Democrat Phil Bredesen).

So, should John McCain beat Barack Obama in November, the Democrats are even more likely than we perhaps expect to complement their US House majority with an historically-massive caucus in the US Senate.


REMEMBER: Thursday 19th June, 2008 – barbeque at the National Liberal Club

COMING SOON: Guest article by David Herdson

Comments are closed.