Republicans Are Shrinking: Sen. Specter's Defection Is a Promising Sign for the Dems
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Senator Specter is following the voters. ABC News reported this week that only 21% of voters consider themselves Republicans. The Republican Party has shrunk to only the true believers in their extreme conservative ideology.
In Pennsylvania 150,000 to 200,000 voters left the Republican Party in the last year. Senator Specter's switch to the Democratic Party was based on the reality that the Republican Party has become more conservative, indeed right wing. Senator Specter could not operate in what is left of the party.
The 2010 elections are likely to cement Democratic control over the senate, so the Specter switch gives them an extra year of one party rule. If they use their power for the people's interests this could last for a generation, if not, it ends in 2012.
One concern for the Dems is they no longer have the "Republican excuse." The Dems can no longer say that the Republican filibuster is stopping their agenda from moving forward. Now, they will have to blame some of the conservative members of their own party. This is not as clear a message and does not allow them to say - "elect more Democrats."
The liberal base of the Democrats will expect more from a party that controls both Houses of Congress, i.e. end the Iraq war more quickly, stop the escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, cut the military budget, act more aggressively on climate change, put in place single payer health care not a subsidize the insurance companies health plan, stop funding Wall Street and start funding Main Street. And, if that agenda does not move forward - it is no longer the fault of the Republicans.
Specter was always a moderate Republican, but when push came to shove he did what the party wanted. In order to strengthen his re-election, Specter needs to have Democratic support, especially the support of labor. While Specter said his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act has not changed, he still has important wiggle room. When that legislation comes up for a cloture vote, he can vote to end cloture and allow a majority vote. The Democrats should be able to achieve majority support for Card Check. If they do, it will help labor unions grow and further strengthen Democratic majorities. Specter's switch may just be another step in ushering in an era of Democratic Party dominance.
Indeed, the 2010 senate races have the Democrats well positioned. They will be defending 17 seats and the Republicans will be defending 19 seats. Already, five Republicans have already announced they are not running, which greatly increases the odds of those seats flipping. And, no Democrats are retiring.
The five states with no incumbent - Delaware, Ohio, Florida, Missouri and Kansas - also help Dems. Ohio has been moving Democrat since the corruption of the Taft era. Delaware is very likely to stay Democrat with Beau Biden, the VP's son as the likely heir. And, recent polls in traditionally Republican Kansas show a close race between the leading candidates. Sen. Mel Martinez is retiring at the end of his term, which will set off a free for all for this competitive Senate seat. No strong Republican has come forward, so this is up for grabs. Four-term senator Kit Bond has decided to retire in Missouri. The Dems have a strong contender in Robin Carnahan, the current secretary of state who comes from a strong Missouri political family.
One challenge for the Democrats is the appointed senators who filled vacancies due to Obama nominations. The Clinton replacement, Kirsten Gillibrand, will seek the two years left on Clinton's six-year term, and then turn right around and run again in 2012. Obama's own seat in Illinois, now filled temporarily by the controversial Roland Burris could be a challenge, but it is looking less and less likely that Burris will run. That should increase Democrats chance of retaining the seat. And, the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's seat in Colorado, now filled on an interim basis by Michael Bennet, were both due for a regular six-year-term election in 2010.
In 2012 things switch and begin to favor the Republicans in the senate. In that year 24 Democrats (including Lieberman and Sanders) are up for re-election and only 9 Republicans. So, one-party rule could be short-lived. Continuing to keep power after 2012 is going to require the Democrats to pass legislation that is more populist in nature. They will have to stop their tilt toward Wall Street and militarism and instead invest in policies that allow the working class to build a stronger wallet. Thus, the conflict in the Democratic Party will be clearer - the monied interests that fund the party and the peoples interests that vote for the party. The Dems will finally be forced to choose.
But for now, the Dems are on a path to one party rule that should last at least three years. And, if they find a way to break with their corporate backers and put in place populist economic policies, they could have a much longer run.