When Jumping Jim Jeffords makes his big bounce this week, he will do more than enter the annals of the Great Captains of Opportunism. He will also underscore the old wisdom: “Be careful what you pray for, you might just get it.”
Tom Daschle prayed for this chance, but it is already turning out to be a very mixed bag for the South Dakota Democrat. On the eve of his accession to power, he was obliged to tell the California Democratic Party and the state’s unGovernor Gray Davis that electricity price caps would not be forthcoming from the Democratic Senate because caps don’t work. This little dose of truth destroyed a month of taxpayer-supported Fabiani-Lehane spinning on behalf of Davis. (Davis has hired these two Gore mouthpieces at $30,000 a month in tax dollars.)
It’s pretty hard to blast the president when the senior Democrat in the land agrees with him. And now, when Davis sends one of his dwindling band of supporters like the only-occasionally-coherent California energy-czar David Freeman – “Our huge weapon is the market power of the people of California cutting back. We do not need to drill in the Arctic or slash and burn what’s left of America the beautiful” – Daschle will have to either push silly legislation to the Senate floor or repudiate the increasingly extreme fringe of his party.
Daschle’s daily repudiations of Davis will not be the worst of it. Rather, Daschle’s frowning face of strident opposition to tax relief and the radical politics of the Boxer/Clinton/Leahy/Murray wing of the Senate Democrats on judicial nominees has already resulted in a vigorous flow of funds into the coffers of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Washington Senator Patty Murray has replaced “Indictable Bob” Torricelli as the top fund-raiser of the Senate Democrats, and she has been crowing about the $10.6 million raised by her side in the first four months of 2001. That number sounds pretty good until you realize that Tennessee’s Bill Frist – the Senate’s only MD and the GOP’s top money-man – has added $19.8 million to the NRSC’s bank account during the same time span. It seems the Republican base is energized and in a giving mood. And that was true before Jeffords did his flip-flop.
Now, the phone lines are ringing and the Internet donations are piling up. Senator Frist has set up a special “Regain the Senate Majority Fund” to make it easy for those disgusted with Jeffords – or frightened by the Barbara Boxer-led assault on the judiciary – to get in the game. Frist also delivered a punch to the solar plexus of the left by bringing Haley Barbour on board as the NRSC’s finance director. The always-energized Barbour will quickly turn the GOP money lead into a rout. The Dems will find it’s hard to raise money from business or individuals who can see in California a living, breathing, collapsing example of what happens when you put Democrats in charge of everything.
The real thorn in Daschle’s side, however, is the fact that he now has responsibility for governing, but his Party is irresponsible. The ongoing jihad against center-right judicial nominees claimed its first trophy in the withdrawal from consideration of highly-esteemed Congressman Christopher Cox because Barbara Boxer wielded her clout. Boxer has more targets – as do the New York twins, Schumer and Clinton, and Vermont’s Leahy. These four and more in the Daschle ranks have moved to organize a boycott of Bush nominees.
Democrats seem to think the public is with them in their war on tough-on-crime judges, but rarely has the public outside of the Beltway found much to love in Democratic judicial activism.
And then there is the math of 2002. Daschle wants to be his Party’s nominee in 2004, but that will be hard to gain on the heels of setbacks in the Senate elections that are only 18 months away. Although Republicans are defending 20 seats and Democrats only 14, the GOP seems vulnerable in at most three races: New Hampshire; Arkansas; and Oregon. Senator Bob Smith in New Hampshire may yet be ousted by GOP Congressman John Sununu, Oregon’s Gordon Smith is a talented campaigner (although the state leans Democrat), and Arkansas Senator Tim Hutchinson has already had direct help from President Bush in a state that went for Bush in 2000. Each of the three vulnerable seats is thus very winnable.
The Democrats, on the other hand, are staring at a very unfriendly map. No less than eight Democratic seats are in trouble. Start with New Jersey where Robert “the Rolex” Torricelli may not even finish his term given the accelerating pace of the investigations surrounding him. In Missouri, Jean Carnahan was appointed to the seat and repaid John Ashcroft’s graciousness with a vote against his confirmation, a move that has not sat well with the square-dealing residents of the Show-me state. Integrity is also an issue in Minnesota, where Paul Wellstone – to the left of even Boxer – boldly blew-off his two-term pledge in announcing for re-election. Perhaps the folks up north don’t mind being played for fools, but Daschle has to worry that they do.
Daschle is also very worried about his weak-sister Senate colleague from South Dakota, Tim Johnson. Popular Congressman John Thune will easily beat Johnson if Thune decides to run. Even if Thune seeks the governorship, the pro-military folks in this state will not forget Johnson’s disappearing act when the military votes in Florida were targeted by the Democrats last December. Under fire at the time, Johnson responded with a lame press release reminding voters that his son is on active duty in the Army. This caused more than a little head-scratching: Why, then, wasn’t Johnson in Florida fighting for the votes of his son’s comrades-in-arms?
Bordering South Dakota is another “Red” state with a “Blue” senator. Montana’s Max Baucus barely survived six years ago – and Bush swept this state handily six months ago. Baucus has hung on through 23 years in the Senate, but in 1996 he garnered only 50 percent of the vote.
Iowa’s Tom Harkin is also on the endangered Democrat list and popular Des Moines Congressman Greg Ganske is already at work in the state. Ganske is another MD with a record of substantive accomplishment in the House in contrast with Harkin’s decade-plus of frothing and rhetorical excess.
If this list wasn’t trouble enough, the last two Democratic incumbents in trouble hail from solid Bush “Red” states. “Light-headed” Mary Landrieu is the rarely-seen but always-bubbly and always-liberal incumbent. Landrieu won by a whisper in 1996, and has moved to the far left in the Senate, always scoring high on the ADA scorecard. She too opposed Ashcroft in a vote that stunned the socially-conservative voters of this solid Bush state. Congressman John Cooksey is already in the race and is well-funded.
Finally, Georgia sent Max Cleland to the Senate in 1996, in part because of his huge sacrifice in Vietnam. Senator Cleland is significantly more liberal than his Democratic colleague Zell Miller, and very much to the left of mainstream Georgia opinion. Having honored his service once, Georgians may be of a mind to put at least one Republican in the Senate to assure their state’s voice is heard by the new administration which those voters favored decisively in 2000.
When Senator Frist appeared on my radio show last week, he talked not like the senators I am used to hearing on the weekend shows. Frist is passionate about winning, and thorough in his analysis of weaknesses and strengths. The NRSC is in very good hands – and money sent there will be well spent – an assurance that itself will add to the donation totals.
So Daschle begins his tenure atop the Senate with a big smile but a huge set of headaches. His Party could not hold the White House in a time of unprecedented economic expansion. The Senate map is ugly going in to 2002, and doesn’t look to get any better.
His most visible governor is an obvious failure and that governor’s demands for a bail-out are a daily embarrassment – compounded by the political water-torture of tax dollars going out to Gore retreads who can’t find honest work.
His allies are a combination of ferocious partisans, pledge-breakers, lefties from beyond the margin, dilettante millionaires, and soon-to-be-recipients of U.S. Attorney target letters. He is on the record in opposition to the tax relief that will soon be arriving in the mail, and he likes the Ninth Circuit just the way it is. Televised hearings on Supreme Court nominees will feature Ted Kennedy – and Jonathan Alter and Margaret Carlson are the Party’s leading cheerleaders.
My advice to Senator Lott is to keep his stationery.