Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Upcoming GOP Senate Woes

Okay, I’m still not going to comment on the presidential race again until after the Conventions, but I can’t help pointing out just how much the G.O.P. is in trouble in other races, especially the U.S. Senate.  If the Democrats pick up a net gain of 9 seats, they will have a 60 seat majority–and thus be filibuster proof.  This isn’t likely, but it isn’t impossible, either.  The GOP has only 2 chances for pickups. This is their fault: They had targetted several Democratic senators believed to be vulnerable this cycle, only to be unable to recruit major challengers and/or unable to get them adequate funding.  For instance, a senator who runs for president and loses is vulnerable to a challenge for their senate seat in the next cycle–especially if that cycle is only 2 years away. (So, yes, either McCain or Obama ought to expect strong challenges in either ’10–for McCain–or ’12 –for Obama, should he not win the White House.) So, the GOP targetted Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) this time–but they went through EIGHT choices before they found a strong candidate in Jim Ogonowski (R-MA)–who failed to get the required signatures to appear on the GOP primary! Now Kerry is cruising to victory!  Even weirder, the GOP could find ZERO candidates to challenge freshman Sen. Mark Pryor(D-AR), whose only competition for reelection now is a Green candidate–in Arkansas!!! So, the only 2 bare possibilities for GOP pickups are South Dakota, because Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) had a near fatal brain aneurism in ’07 and is still recovering, and Louisiania, because the Katrina exodus has decreased the number of Democrats in LA and because Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) initially did not handle that crisis much better than Bush. But BOTH of those incumbent Democrats are leading their opponents and looking stronger every day. My prediction: The GOP fails to pick off ANY incumbent Democrats in the Senate this go round.

That means that the Democrats need to add 9 seats to get to 60.  The odds seem to me that they will fall just short–57 or 58–and if they get the latter it will be a larger Democratic majority in the Senate than at any time since 1978!!  I think any casino in Vegas would give good odds on picking up the top 5 seats:

  1. VA: Former Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) who was hugely popular as governor and who will be the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this month has an ENORMOUS lead over highly unpopular former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-VA).  This is an open seat.
  2. NM: Another open seat.  U.S. Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) is decimating unpopular far-right Rep. Steve Pierce (R-NM) after Pierce had a very bruising primary campaign.
  3. AK: Indicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the longest serving GOP Senator, is refusing to resign and is now badly trailing Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D-AK). The only slim hope for the GOP to retain this seat is if Stevens loses a GOP primary challenge, but Begich is outpolling both of Stevens’ Republican challengers, too.  These 3 seats are all but sure wins for the Democrats.
  4. CO: Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO), cousin to Tom, has a steady 6 point lead over Rep. Bob Schaeffer (R-CO), who was involved with the Abramoff bribery scandal, for this open seat.  When one adds in the DNC in Denver and Obama’s lead in the state (coat-tail effect), I think November will see 2 Udalls in the Senate.
  5. NH: Former Gov. Gail Sheehan (D-NH) is beating Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) of Reagan admin. infamy. (Update: I have been informed that Sen. Sununu may be the SON of the Reagan stooge of the same name. Either way, fmr. Gov. Sheehan is cleaning his clock and adding to the Democratic women in the Senate.)

No one should be surprised to see those 5 Dems sworn into their new Senate seats in January.  After that it gets tricky.  The other races are much closer, but what makes another 4 pickups (and, thus, the magic number of 60) possible is that there are so MANY competitive races where no one expected Democrats to have much chance.:

MS-B: Because of Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS)’s unexpected resignation (to become a lobbyist, of course!), Mississippi has to field TWO Senate races this cycle. The first one, unfortunately, is safe in GOP hands. Dems failed to recruit a strong challenger for Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), with all due respect to fmr. State Rep. Erik Fleming (D-MS) for agreeing to be the sacrificial lamb. Sigh. But in the open seat vacated by Lott, popular former governor Ronnie Musgrove (D-MS) is in a statistical dead heat with ethically-challenged Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS).  If Musgrove can keep this close (as it seems he is), then I think the huge African-American turnout in November (Mississippi has the largest African-American population in the country, 38%), while it won’t be enough for Obama to flip MS blue on the presidential level, probably WILL tip the scales for Musgrove and other downticket races.  I think Musgrove will win.

NC: State Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is closing in on Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and is being aided by money from the national party.  Dole has about a 7 point lead, now, but Hagan’s new ads are very popular. I think Hagan will win.

MN: Comic/commentator Al Franken (D-MN) had some rough going, but aided by new scandals for Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), is in an EXACT tie in 2 polls! I think Franken can pull this off, aided by Minnesota’s increasing Democratic turn and Obama’s popularity here. I think Franken will win.

That’s 3 of the needed 4 if I am right.

OR: Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) is in the fight of his life against Speaker of the Oregon House Jeff Merkely (D-OR).  Merkely should be leading Smith, but the Oregon press seems to be in the tank for Smith. Still, the debates should help Merkely.

KY: I would not have believed it, but businessman Bruce Lunsford (D-KY) is running a very strong campaign against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the U.S. Obstructionist-in-Chief (Sen. Minority Leader). This is still a long shot because McConnell is a strong campaigner and Kentucky is NOT Obama territory, but this could be the year we finally “Ditch Mitch!” If Lunsford goes on the attack, turning up the heat on all the McConnell votes against KY families in the last 2 years alone, he could pull this off. One of the smart things Lunsford is doing is concentrating his campaigning in rural KY–because Louisville and Lexington (our only “big cities”) already can’t stand McConnell. If Lunsford can get close to McConnell in the small towns and farms, then the large population centers (where most of KY Democrats live) can push him over the top.

ID: Former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D-ID) is only 10 points behind ethically-challenged, debate-fearing, Jim Risch (R-ID) for this open seat.  Idaho is a VERY GOP state, but LaRocco is running a very strong campaign. With extra money and some luck, this could be a squeaker. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), thinks stopping LaRocco is key to GOP hopes for keeping Dems from that magic 60 number–which shows how scared they are. LaRocco will be debating a conservative independent with a blank podium where debate-ducker Jim Risch should be. I think Idahoans will think twice about why Risch is so afraid to debate LaRocco.

KS, ME (which should be closer, but the print media in Maine is in the tank for Sen. Susan Collins–making her look like much more of a “moderate” Republican than she actually is), GA, OK, TX, and TN are also all competitive races with longshot possibilities for Democratic pickups. 

So, if Sen. Obama becomes President, he is likely to have more Congressional backing (Democrats are expected to increase their majority in the House of Representatives by 15-30 seats, too!) than any Democratic president since Lyndon Baine Johnson in ’64.  He could get some real, big vision, goals accomplished, like universal healthcare, fighting global warming, switching to green energy, better schools, infrastructure and job creation, etc.  On the other hand, if Sen. McCain scrapes out a win (and the race is close enough for this to be possible–although the Electoral Vote calculator still gives Obama a 92% chance of victory), his promises are bankrupt (if the Dems stand up to him). His plan to make the Bush tax cuts for the rich permanent–dead on arrival. Privatizing Social Security? (Yes, he wants to do that!), no dice.  He could well be a lame duck on day one–or have to do like CA Gov. Schwarzenegger (R) and change his tune and give in to Democratic demands. (So why vote for McCain? Go with the guy who will have a chance at accomplishing something good!) (McCain could still do damage by appointments and not withdrawing from Iraq and by fiddling away our last chance to stop Global Warming before it’s too late!)

I also expect Democrats to win back control of both houses of the state legislature in Texas (step one–Texas is turning Democratic, but not fast enough to help Obama to the White House this cycle–but maybe in ’12), the governorship of Missouri, and much else.

UPDATE: As former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX) found out, there are no “permanent majorities.”  If Obama wins the White House and the Dems do as well as predicted in the Senate, House, etc., expect the Dems to lose some Congressional ground in ’10. That’s usually the way it works.  However, IF they are accomplishing good things, I doubt seriously that the Dems will lose enough seats for the GOP to take back either House of Congress (maybe in ’12). In fact, in the Senate, the Dems may pick up a few more seats and, if they don’t get to 60 this time, cross it, then.  Some GOP Senate seats up for election in 2010 are already looking vulnerable to Democrats: 1. AZ: If McCain loses his White House bid, he may retire in ’10. But, even if not, I expect Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-NM) to take his seat from him, she is far more popular than he is and outpolls him in matchups by 20 points. If McCain wins the White House, NM law requires Napolitano to appoint a Republican to replace him until the special election, but that Republican could still be vulnerable to a strong Democrat as the Southwest is moving Democratic. McCain has lost popularity in AZ as he has run for president–especially since he has run against his own record. 2. FL: Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) has polled at only 50% approval rating and in hypothetical ’10 matchups, he has lost to Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D-FL), Florida’s only state-wide elected Democrat besides Sen. Ben Nelson (D-FL) and polling dead even with popular Florida liberal Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL, 19th). Retired FL. Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who was also a very popular FL governor, also outpolls Martinez should he decide to return to the Senate.  I haven’t seen any polling, but I think Rep. Corinne Brown (D-FL, 03rd) or Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL, 20th) could give Martinez a run for his money (or his lobbyist friends’ money). 3. KS: I expect Bush-henchman Pat Roberts (R-KS) to keep his Sen. seat this go round, although fmr. Rep. Jim Slattery (D-KS) is running strong enough that we may be surprised.  However, KS OTHER far-right GOP Sen., Sam Brownback (R-KS), has already announced his decision to retire in ’10 leaving an open seat. Gov. Kathleen Sebellius (D-KS) is term limited from seeking a 3rd term as popular Gov. Unless she becomes VP (she was previously rumored to be on Obama’s short-list, but has apparently not made the final cut), she may decide to run for Senate–and I don’t think KS Republicans have a deep bench for strong opponents. 4. KY’s junior Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is far more vulnerable than Obstructionist-in-Chief Mitch McConnell. in ’02, a STRONG year for the GOP, Bunning barely held onto his seat–by telling people that his opponent, Rep. Dan Mongiardo (now Lt. Gov.) “looked like one of Saddam’s sons!” (Yes, that actually worked! Sigh!) Mongiardo may try again in ’10. Or, my first choice, State Auditor Crit Luallen (D-KY), an anti-corruption HAWK who won reelection in ’07 by 70% of the vote, may decide to clean up the Senate! She’d cream Bunning. 4. MO: Sec. of State Robin Carnahan (D-MO), daughter of the late governor/senator Mel Carnahan (D-MO) polls in statistical tie with far-right wingnut Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO). And, with Claire McCaskill (D-MO) having won the Senate in ’06, Jay Nixon (D-MO) leading in his race for Gov. this year, and Obama narrowly trailing McCain in MO polls, it seems like MO is returning to the Democratic fold, so a Carnahan-Bond matchup has a strong chance for Democratic success. 5. PA: Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA), one of the few TRULY moderate GOP senators left, is old enough that he may retire in ’10. Even if not, Democrats have gained tremendous ground in PA, so Spector could face stiff competition. Current Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) might take him on and it has been rumored that TV political commentator Chris Matthews (a moderate to conservative Democrat), is considering a senate run. Both would be strong competition for Spector. I would rather someone more progressive than either Matthews or Rendell, though. Think Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-PA, 13th). 5. OH: Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) is high on the list of expected retirees for ’10 (he’d be 74 on election day!), but even if he doesn’t retire and leave this an open seat, he could be beaten.  Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH, 17) polls dead even with Voinovich in hypothetical matchups and Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH, 13) polls only 2 points lower than Voinovich, 2 years out. If Voinovich retires, this should be a sure Dem. pickup and good chances even if he doesn’t.

Of course, 2010 is a long way off and much could change before then.  (Few expected GOP fortunes to drop as much as they did between ’04 and ’06) But there are longterm demographic factors hurting the GOP: They are 91% white in a nation where, by 2042 there will be no majority ethnic group and whites will only be the largest minority (having a national plurality). At the turn of the century, Republicans were making gains among Latinos (the fasting growing ethnic group in the nation) and Asians and small-but-steady growth among African-Americans. But the anti-immigration stance and resurgent racism in much of the GOP has reversed those gains dramatically.  Only 27% of the public currently admit to being Republican. New voter registration is strongest for Democrats and Independents.  And the GOP is losing the hearts and minds of the American public, especially younger voters, on the big issues.   As Protestant Evangelicals and Catholics are becoming swing-voters, again, the once-powerful Religious Right–still wedded firmly to the GOP, is hurting the Republican brandname, too. 

Democrats have their own problems and the coming years could see both parties have to make room for the rise of the Libertarians and the Greens. The demographic factors might have seen the current GOP woes become reality eventually, anyway, but the current meltdown was, at least accelerated by President George W. Bush, who has led his party, the nation, and much of the world right over a cliff. I told you so.

August 15, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics | 3 Comments

Brief Notes from Other Blogs

If you doubt the level of violence directed at lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons because of their gender identity or sexual orientation (i.e., hate crimes), then you should check out Unfinished Lives.  That’s the name of a project, a blog, and an upcoming book on the unseen and under reported violence against LBGTQ persons.  The project director, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, is Associate Prof. of Practical Theology and Director of Field Education for Brite Divinity School. He is an ordained Baptist minister (at this Disciples of Christ related seminary) and the first out gay tenured faculty member at Brite. I look forward to the upcoming book and find the information on the blog tragic–and compelling in prodding me to do more to seek both increased legal protections against LGBTQ hate-crimes and to create a culture that works against this evil. This is the lynching issue of our era and the church today is nearly as silent as the church during lynchings of Jim Crow America.

D.W. Horstkoetter of Flying Farther is blogging on Race: A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter.  I have this book on my wishlist and, in the near future, I hope to blog more on how deeply racism entertwines Christian theology–not just with fundamentalist or conservative Christians, but also much of the history of liberal Christian theology in this and other countries.  Until we address this sickness in our churches more directly, we shouldn’t be surprised at how deeply racism has been affecting our politics. (For a tiny sample of the latter, see this video. )

And Halden has created a strange contest for “Worst Theologian Ever” (and obvious heretics are not eligible for the game), not in the sense of “dumbest,” but in “most destructive to the church.” It’s a tough call; I’m still trying to narrow my initial list of 50! 🙂 But I’m very tempted to go with the early church historian Eusebius for beginning the long, disastrous tradition of theologians fawning over politicians–and, in Eusebius’ case, the dictator Constantine.  But there are so many other rivals for the spot!

August 15, 2008 Posted by | blogs | 3 Comments