Transition: Obama’s honeymoon has already experienced a few minor ripples, but one of the most striking features of the Obama Administration—as far as we can glean from the president-elect’s early moves—is how firmly rooted it is in the existing and past Democratic establishment.
- No President since John F. Kennedy has come into the White House with such a supportive press corps. Few Presidents come to office with such high popularity. But escaping serious scrutiny throughout the campaign could have negative effects on his transition and the early days of his presidency.
- Obama’s leaking of his conversation with President George W. Bush, and his cruel joke at the expense of former First Lady Nancy Reagan were both minor stumbles seized upon by eager critics. Their greatest effect could be teaching an early lesson to Obama of how much discretion his new job demands.
- Naming fellow Chicagoan, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), as his White House chief of staff, showed the pragmatic side of this "Hope" and "Change" politician. Emanuel has earned the scorn of the Left for his work in the Clinton Administration, which included getting NAFTA passed through Congress. Emanuel, the son of Israeli immigrants, also helps Obama with a portion of the liberal establishment that people speculated would be cold towards him.
- Whatever Emanuel’s voting record or political views, he is, at heart, a political fixer. If Obama was looking for the one Democrat anywhere in the country who could best get things done and solve problems, Emanuel was his man. With intimate ties to Wall Street and experience in the housing collapse, Emanuel is well versed on the biggest crisis facing Obama on Day One.
- Obama’s early push for a bailout of the big automakers shows his eagerness to dovetail interventionist government policies with big business interests. This "third-way" pro-government, pro-business philosophy used well by Clinton, could be perfected by Obama in building a formidable Democratic coalition.
Alaska: Although the counting continues, Sen. Ted Stevens (R) appears headed to reelection—which raises only more questions. Stevens holds a 3,000-vote lead over Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D), with some votes still outstanding.
How did a felon win a Senate seat? The word coming out of Alaska is that Republican voters, faced with the real possibility of electing a devoutly pro-choice Democrat to the U.S. Senate, opted instead for the temporary disgrace of electing a convicted senator, expecting a special election shortly in which they can vote for a non-convicted Republican candidate. This mindset didn’t carry most voters to Stevens’ column, but it appears to have carried enough of them.
So, what happens now?
Two facts are central to the future disposition of this seat: First, Senate Republicans have made it clear they do not want a felonious senator in their caucus. Second, Stevens still intends to appeal his conviction, and could very possibly get it overturned, or at least be granted a mistrial.
Before his appeals are exhausted, Stevens’ personality suggests he won’t resign, despite calls by his GOP colleagues to step aside. Once his appeals are exhausted, the GOP caucus could move to expel him (by a two-thirds vote).
If Democrats win the Georgia and Minnesota Senate seats (see below), Alaska would represent a 60th seat without Lieberman. Considering that fact, expect renewed Democratic aggression against Stevens in December after the Georgia runoff.
After Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) appointed his daughter Lisa Murkowski (R) to fill out his unfinished Senate term (the first in a string of offenses that led to Sarah Palin‘s (R) insurgent candidacy in 2006), Alaska voters changed state law by ballot initiative, requiring a special election to fill U.S. Senate seats.
So, who would run for this seat? Pundits throw out Palin’s name, but there is reason to believe she wants a break from the attention of the hostile national media. A more likely candidate may be Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell (R), a Palin ally who narrowly lost a challenge to Rep. Don Young (R) in this year’s GOP primary. On the Democrats’ side, Begich could try again, as could State Rep. Ethan Berkowitz (D), who lost to Young in the general election. Also, there is former Gov. Tony Knowles (D).
While Alaska is a very Republican state, national Democrats will be in better shape to help their nominee in this race than will national Republicans (see Georgia, below). If Palin is the nominee, expect intense national attention, with scornful Democrats motivated to shoot down this woman again, and angry conservatives rallying behind her as a standard bearer.
Georgia: Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) faces a runoff on December 2, and it won’t be easy. Runner-up Jim Martin (D) has an uphill climb running against a GOP incumbent in a Republican state, but President-elect Obama needs to do little more than snap his fingers and Martin would be flooded with donations from across the country.
But even if you give Martin a huge cash advantage, Daily Kos readers in Oregon cannot vote for Chambliss. Martin’s problem in a runoff would be turnout. Black turnout was up in Georgia by about 10% from four years ago, with 97% voting for Martin. This was the Obama effect. Without Obama atop the ticket, Democrats cannot count on such a turnout. Will Obama spend political capital to stump for Martin throughout the Peach State? Would that even be effective in driving black turnout?
With the Democratic base so much more motivated, and the Left’s "Netroots" so much more tuned in and willing to part with cash to help the Democratic Party, the odds are nearly even in this special election. Leaning Republican Retention.
Minnesota: Comedian Al Franken (D) caught a wave of good luck as a handful of precincts gave him sizable boosts after second looks at their vote totals, cutting GOP Sen. Norm Coleman‘s lead from over 1,000 votes down to 206. A statewide manual recount has begun, and will probably not be complete until the end of the month. With 2.9 million ballots to count, Franken’s odds of winning are nearly as good as Coleman’s. The loser, of course, could sue, and Coleman’s campaign has already hinted towards fraud suspicions after Franken’s post-election, pre-recount gains that dramatically outpaced gains made by Obama on the same ballots.
Oregon: The slim election night lead of Sen. Gordon Smith (R) vanished as the final ballots rolled in, making him the third GOP Senate incumbent to fall this year, and the eighth to lose in the last two cycles.
State House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D), according to unofficial results as of November 10, edged out Smith by 54,671 votes, a 48.8%-to-45.7% win. The spoiler was Constitution Party nominee Dave Brownlow, who garnered 89,677 votes, or 164% of Merkley’s margin of victory. In the campaign’s final weeks, Smith and the RNC sent out mailers attacking Brownlow–a libertarian who opposes the occupation of Iraq–as "too liberal for Oregon."
Merkley’s win pushed Democrats up to 55 seats, not counting independents Lieberman and Sanders, and with three contests still outstanding.
Late Results: Since last Wednesday, more congressional results have trickled in.
- State Sen. Andy Harris (R) on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, conceded to Queen Anne County State’s Atty. Frank Kratovil (D) on Tuesday. Kratovil won on the strength of the endorsement of outgoing Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R), whom Harris defeated in the primary. Republicans will target this seat in 2010.
- Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) has escaped Obamania alive. Democrats will continue to challenge him and, as a suburban Republican, he is an endangered species.
- With about 42,000 votes yet to be counted, State Sen. Tom McClintock (R) leads 2006 nominee Charlie Brown (D) by about 1,000 votes. Both candidates express optimism they will come out ahead when all votes are counted, and a recount is a near certainty. This is the open seat of Rep. John Doolittle (R), retiring under the cloud of scandal. This is a Republican district, and McClintock was leading until the economic chaos of early October.
- new Jersey State Sen. John Adler (D) eked out a win over Medford Councilman Chris Myers (R) for the open seat of retiring Rep. Jim Saxton (R). This was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing year for New Jersey Democrats, who had hoped to gain three seats in the Garden State.
- Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.), a former Democrat and former independent, has not conceded, but his opponent Tom Perriello (D) has declared victory. The tallies have not been certified, so we’ll keep this race in the undetermined column even though a Perriello victory looks nearly certain. This marks three Democratic House pickups in the commonwealth, together with a U.S. Senate pickup, and a Democratic takeover of the state Senate. Add on Obama’s win of Virginia’s 13 Electoral Votes, the Democrats’ two straight gubernatorial victories, and their U.S. Senate pickup in 2006, and it looks like a full-fledged conquest.
- In the open seat of Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce (R), State Sen. Steve Stivers (R) leads Franklin Co. Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D) by 149 votes as of Wednesday morning.