In the run-up to the election, when the focus was to get out the vote, I spent a beautiful day at the Right Wing Tavern in Woodstock. Interviewing statewide candidates was on the plate, and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R–GA) was stumping for votes all over Georgia. Isakson’s seat was one of the safe ones. The Georgia Democratic Party was not able to get a strong candidate to run, and Isakson has been a fixture in Georgia politics. He is beloved by the left and the right but most importantly by independent voters, an unusual asset in today’s political world, even in a Red State like Georgia. Ultimately, his opponent, State Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, could not garner even 40%, and Isakson won easily.
Sen. Isakson got the wheels in my head spinning towards 2012. I didn’t want to go there, but I had to. The Lame Duck session, Senator Isakson pointed out, is the beginning of the 2012 election, and in the next two election cycles, Democrats have the most to lose in the U. S. Senate.
In the Senate, one-third of the Senators are up for re-election every two years. This year was unusual. There would normally have been 33 seats up for grabs in the Senate. Due to death, retirement and other circumstances, there were 37 this year.
After all was said and done on Tuesday, it looks as though there will be 47 in the Republican Caucus and 53 in the Democrat Caucus. For the Republicans, those figures assume that either Joe Miller will win as a Republican in Alaska or Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent, whining, write-in candidate will win and caucus with the Republicans. I never expected to have the Republicans achieve a majority in the Senate, but I was hoping for a change. After talking to Isakson, I started digging for projected figures. In 2012, there will be 33 Senate seats up for grabs. Twenty-one of them will be held by Democrats, and two will be held by Independents (Lieberman and Sanders) who caucus with the Democrats. This number also includes two
Democrats (Gillibrand and Manchin) who ran for unexpired terms in 2010 and who will have to defend themselves in 2012.
That is a large number of Democrats who will have to defend themselves in 2012, and the votes they use for that defense will start in the Lame Duck Session.
To make matters much more fun, in 2014, the Senators who came in during the 2008 Democratic wave will be up for reelection, the illustrious Al Franken of Minnesota among them. The Democrats will have 20 of 33 seats to defend that year.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, but you get the point. The Senate is a deliberative body and we have to be patient.
The plight of Senators in 2012 depends on four things. First, we have to see how President Obama reacts to the elections. It took several months of face-to-face negotiations in late 1994 and early 1995 before President Clinton made the famous “the era of Big Government is over” statement in his State of the Union address in 1995. Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. He wasn’t a governor, and he hasn’t show the desire to negotiate. He did announce a meeting of the minds with the leadership for November 18th and says it will be “substantive” and “not just a photo-op.” We shall see.
Second, will President Obama draw a primary opponent? I have predicted for at least a year that Mrs. Clinton will find a reason to resign sometime after this election and will run against Obama in 2012. Lanny Davis, former Clinton staffer and friend, said this week “absolutely not,” but I’m holding firm. She’s been above the fray and on an airplane during most of her tenure as Secretary of State. However, the emergence of former President Clinton as a foil to some of Obama’s campaigning in 2010 tells me that all is not well between the Clintons and the Obamas. There is still a score to settle; the Clintons always settle scores one way or another.
Third, Congressional and Senate Republicans will have to do what they promised to do. They will have to present and pass legislation with a more open and transparent process. The Democratic Senate can stall it and the President can ultimately veto it, but the work has to be there. For two years, Democrats have called Republicans obstructionists when they had the votes to do anything they wanted without one single Republican vote. On the most important issue of this session, the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts, the leadership had the chance to go into the election with a bi-partisan vote to extend all the cuts, and they punted. If Republicans and like-minded Democrats hold their ground and do what they promise, they will show who the real obstructionists are—the Democrats. If they don’t, every seat will be up for grabs, and Republicans might lose what they gained and then some.
Finally, the economy will be the deciding factor. If we are back to work and the economy is expanding, then Senators can run on their record. We have to get our fiscal house in order. There are some who think that it’s too late to do so. Outgoing Senator Judd Gregg says that we are one step away from being Greece. Others say that it’s mathematically impossible for this government to remain solvent. The time ahead will be the test.
There is still much that is up for grabs. This is a six-year cycle, and the final outcome will depend on whether we, the voters, hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire. After your vote, the real work begins.