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Posted at 6:32 AM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Why no news is good news for Democrats' Senate majority

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

By now, every political junkie worth his -- or her -- name knows that Senate Democrats have to defend a whopping 23 seats in 2012 while Senate Republicans must defend only 10.

In the long run, the lopsided number of Democratic seats up -- thanks to a 2006 election where the party won virtually everywhere -- make their majority status perilous in 2012.

That's no secret.

But the seat disparity also has less obvious short term effects.

Take the news that Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) has decided to take on freshman Sen. Jon Tester (D) in 2012. (Rehberg will formally announce his candidacy on Saturday.)

Rehberg's recruitment was immediately cited by some in the chattering class as evidence of the early strength of the GOP's 2012 class -- a class that includes former Sen. George Allen (Va.), state Attorney General Jon Bruning (Neb.), former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (Mo.) and state Senate president Mike Haridopolos (Fla.).

(Worth noting: Steelman and Haridopolos already face serious primary fights, and Allen and Bruning are also likely to be challenged for their party's nod.)

The simple fact is that national Republicans will have more recruiting successes in these early days of the 2012 campaign. Not only does the National Republican Senatorial Committee have a far broader number of vulnerable Democrats to target, but they are also benefitting from the residual effects of the 2010 election -- when GOP candidates won contests all over the country. Recruiting is far easier when candidates believe they can and will win.

While Republicans win headlines for landing top tier recruits, Democrats are -- by necessity -- doing the sort of nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes work that almost never draws media attention.

One Senate Democratic source notes that three top Republican targets -- Tester and Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) -- already have campaign managers in place and roughly 90 percent of all the party's incumbents have hired a research director, a sign of the seriousness with which they are taking their races.

The other major task for Senate Democratic strategists at the moment is to convince wavering members to run for another term. If the party gets what it wants, there aren't any headlines. Put simply: No news is good news for Senate Democrats.

What all of that means is that the next few months are very likely to be good ones for Senate Republicans as they work to build a roster of candidates to take back the majority next November.

But, a dearth of good Democratic headlines over the net few months shouldn't necessarily be read as a sign of incoming doom for the party. Campaign mechanics alone won't save the Democratic majority -- even the best-run races sometimes struggle to overcome the prevailing political winds -- but a quiet few months for the party would actually signal strength rather than weakness.

Ensign's dwindling campaign fund: Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who got some bad news about an ethics investigation into his affair on Tuesday, has more problems. Namely, money.

Ensign continued to spend down his campaign account in the fourth quarter of 2010, raising very little and seeing his cash on hand drop from $280,000 to $224,000 between Oct. 1 and the end of the year.

Ensign is just now trying to get his campaign fundraising operation up and running, and he's set to hold a fundraiser Wednesday night in Washington.

But the fallout from his affair and an alleged cover-up has been expensive; Ensign had more than $1 million in his campaign account at the start of 2010. He's now got far less cash on hand than both of his top potential opponents -- Republican Rep. Dean Heller ($815,000) and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley ($1.1 million).

Gingrich weighs in on Egypt: At an academic debate with former DNC Chairman Howard Dean on Tuesday night, Newt Gingrich warned that opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei could take over a new Egyptian government and called for residency for some illegal immigrants.

Gingrich declared that "we are slowly losing the war" on terrorism and that "in a few weeks, if we are unfortunate," Egypt will have a radical Islamic government. He said that he thought an administration spearheaded by ElBaradei would give way to rule by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The former House Speaker also argued for "human discrimination" when it comes to immigration -- meaning that immigrants who have grown up in the U.S. or were educated here should be helped on a case-by-case basis.

As for the 2012 race, Gingrich said, "I'm an author. I write books. I make money." But he also jokingly suggested Dean's criticism would help him in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. When asked after the debate about retiring Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and Huntsman's presidential plans, Gingrich said he believed Huntsman would run and would be a "formidable candidate."


Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell (D) is reportedly set to become the latest Southern Democrat to switch party affiliation and become a Republican. As a statewide official, Caldwell's defection would be particularly noteworthy; most party-switchers have been at the state legislative level.

Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling shows Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) trailing state Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) 50 percent to 39 percent. In a matchup with state Treasurer Don Stenberg (R), Stenberg is at 45 percent and Nelson is at 41 percent.

Former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey (R) says she's considering running against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). McCaughey served as Gov. George Pataki's (R) second-in-command for one term in the 1990s, before disagreements led Pataki to choose a new running mate.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) appears unlikely to seek a third term in 2012.

Connecticut state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R) said he won't make a repeat bid for Rep. Chris Murphy's (D-Conn.) seat, even though Murphy is vacating it to run for Senate. Caligiuri fell to Murphy 54 percent to 46 percent in November.

The West Virginia state legislature may change the dates of the upcoming special election for governor.


"The Corzine factor" -- Darryl R. Isherwood, PolitickerNJ

"Ovide's Stock On The Rise In New Hampshire" -- Sean Sullivan, Hotline On-Call

"Jon Hunstman And The 2012 Theory of Moderation" -- Michael Scherer, Time

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | February 2, 2011; 6:32 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: Surveying Senate fundraising (or lack thereof) for the class of 2012

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