With the standard caveats that it's only September, much work must yet be done, and that we can't take anything for granted in the Presidential race, I'd like to ask everyone reading this to clear your minds of the clutter of the current news cycle for a moment, and try to peer with me into the future.
It is 2009. Barack Obama is now our President. His first 100 days in office are shaping up as a whirlwind of change. He is systematically dismantling the unconstitutional executive privileges to which George W. Bush helped himself for the last eight years. He is, as promised, beginning a measured and steady drawdown of troops from Iraq. His legislative proposals, with a 50-vote Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, are sailing through the lower house of Congress.
There's only one problem: The U.S. Senate, where 42 Republicans (plus "Independent" Joe Lieberman) are absolutely refusing to play ball.
The Republicans, stinging from their landslide electoral losses of 2008, have but one weapon remaining to them: the filibuster. And they are threatening it, and using it, on bill after bill after bill.
National healthcare? Filibuster.
National energy policy? Filibuster.
President Obama's budget, and changes in the tax code? Filibuster.
In addition, John Paul Stevens has announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, and Republicans operatives are saying (off the record, of course), that they will filibuster ANY Obama SCOTUS nominee.
Meanwhile, every Republican lawmaker and pundit who can find a TV camera or a keyboard is lambasting President Obama for his intransigence, his partisanship, his unwillingness to compromise. "For all his big talk about bipartisanship before the election," says one Republican senator, "Now he's just trying to have everything his way and cram all these bills down our throats, and we're not going to stand for it."
Senatorial gridlock is in full swing, and with a compliant media establishment at their side, Republicans are slowly chipping away at President Obama's approval rating. It's not even mid-way through 2009, but the Republicans are already eyeing the 2010 elections. The economy remains in a funk due to the remnants of Hurricanes George and Dick, but the GOP is working every day to saddle President Obama with the responsibility for the economic slowdown. Word is circling that Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove are plotting a repeat of 1994 for the 2010 elections.
The above scenario is not only plausible, but, I believe, likely. Perhaps Barack can truly "reach across the aisle" and pull enough Republicans over on each particular issue (health care, taxes, employee choice, energy) to "get things done" and move America forward.
Do you trust the Republicans enough to count on that? Or do you believe as I do that, knowing that things such as universal healthcare can never be undone once granted to the American people, that the GOP Senators will circle the wagons as never before and fight with all their being to stop "THE CHANGE WE NEED" from occurring, all the while working their PR machine and the media to paint Obama as an arrogant elitist who lied to the American people about being willing to "reach across the aisle"?
Maybe we could actually pressure them enough through grassroots action to force them to come around.
But would you really care to count on it? If you need health coverage, would you like the decision about whether or not you'll get it to fall into the hands of the likes of Saxby Chambliss?
Didn't think so. So here's my point: we need to give President Obama a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. We need 60 Senators.
It is NOT going to be easy, but I think it can be done. But we are going to have to focus some energy on races that, heretofore, we haven't been paying much attention to.
Here's where we stand now: We have 37 incumbents not up for re-election, plus Bernie Sanders. So we're starting with 38 guaranteed Democratic votes. For the purposes of all further analysis, from my perspective, Joe Lieberman is now a Republican.
So, we've got 38 Senators right out of the gate.
Let's now take a look at some numbers from FiveThirtyEight:
Now, I'm ignoring the percentages and the fact that Nate, God bless him, still counts Lieberman as a Democrat. Let's look at the "Scorecard":
We've got 11 Senators sitting with a 100% chance to win, according to Nate. Of course, one of those is Joe Biden, who will need to be replaced by Delaware's governor. Since that governor is currently a Democrat and Biden would surely resign his seat should he become VP, I think it's safe to assume that his seat stays Democratic.
That gets us to 49. We need 11 more.
Nate at FiveThirtyEight also puts Tom Udall (NM) and Mary Landrieu (LA) in the "Safe Dem" category, with 98 and 97% chances of winning, respectively.
That's 51 Democrats (well, 50 Dems and Bernie Sanders, whom I wish we could clone 99 times). We need 9 more. Here's where it gets interesting.
In the "Likely Dem" category, Nate puts Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), and Mark Begich (AK). The lowest win percentage amongst this group, according to Nate, is 88% (Begich). Now, given that you-know-who is from Alaska, we will have to keep an eye on Begich's race, but considering he's facing a guy with a stack of criminal indictments, I suspect he'll be OK.
That's 54. 6 more.
The last name on the left column of Nate's graph is Mark Udall in Colorado, with a 78% chance of victory and a label of "Leans Dem". Pollster.com's composite agrees with this, showing Udall as a 44.4%-38.9% favorite over GOP foil Bob Schaffer. You certainly don't need me to tell you that Colorado is a battleground state, and hopefully all the Obama effort in the state will help Udall, but this is a race we CANNOT let slip away.
That's 55. Now we go to the scary side of Nate's graph--of course, the right side.
We need to pick off 5 of those seats. And this is where I have to say something unpopular:
I like Scott Kleeb, Andrew Rice, and Rick Noriega. From what I've seen of them, I like them all very much. And it's still early. But they are all heavy underdogs in states that Obama is not going to play that well in. Counting on them to get us to 60 is, quite frankly, folly. You can see what Nate thinks of their chances in the graph above. Pollster shows Kleeb down by 23, Rice by 16, Noriega by 14. They are great guys, no dispute on that, but they are longshots to win. One of them may pull out an upset, and in a perfect world all three would--but the odds say it's not gonna happen.
So where do we get our five seats? Well, you see Nate's chart. We have four candidates fighting for "Leans GOP" seats: Kay Hagan (NC), Al Franken (MN), Jeff Merkley (OR), and Ronnie Musgrove (MS).
Now, I'm from Mississippi, and I'm about as excited to vote for Ronnie Musgrove as I would be to vote for a dead fish. He is definitely not a progressive--but he's the one in the race with the big D next to his name. His race is currently getting away from him, however, and he is in another of Obama's weaker states. He is the most problematic of the four candidates above--not only is he the least likely to win, he's the most likely to be a Blue Dog-type Senator.
But Kay Hagan, Al Franken, Jeff Merkley? We need to be ON those races. If we really want to get to 60, we need to get on board with Ronnie Musgrove too. Or we need to move another race into contention somewhere.
If we pull those out, that's 59. Who's number 60? As near as I can tell, the most likely guy is Jim Martin in Georgia. Nate doesn't like his chances much, but the Obama team is putting up a fight in Georgia, and he is steadily gaining on Saxby Chambliss. Pollster shows him down by about 7-8 points, but he had a late primary and he's been gaining fast.
So with all this in mind, I would like to make a proposal: I humbly submit that, in the interests of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the following candidates should be added to the official DailyKos "Orange to Blue" list (candidates' names are linked to their individual ActBlue pages):
And, just in case Markos doesn't add the above candidates to the Orange to Blue list, I have created an ActBlue list of my own:
I ask, as do we all, that you merely do what you can.
Thanks for reading.