Harry Reid’s Waterloo

In the wake of the historic drubbing the Democratic Party received in November 2010… with Republicans winning a substantial majority in the House of Representatives, I have previously predicted that Senator Harry Reid is destined to be the unhappiest man in Washington during the term of the 112th Congress.  Why?  Because chances are he will be, in the months ahead, the majority leader of a fractured majority.

Of course, the “conventional wisdom” in Washington maintains that repeal of Obamacare is impossible because, while Republicans have had little trouble passing a repealer in the House, there is no chance of passing it in a Senate controlled by Harry Reid and a thin Democratic majority.  (It is called “conventional wisdom” because lame-brained commentators such as Bill O’Reilly at Fox think it is the epitome of political astuteness).  Furthermore, as “conventional wisdom” has it, Barack Obama would be certain to veto the repealer… so why even try?

What the naysayers fail to take into account is: a) the latent power of the Tea Party movement, and b) the fear factor that keeps a lot of Democrat awake at night, particularly those who plan to seek reelection in 2012.  All that is needed is for Republicans and Tea Party activists to force a straight up or down vote in the Senate, avoiding what would be a rare majority filibuster against the minority.  Republicans would need just four Democratic crossovers to win repeal in the Senate and 13 to defeat a rare majority filibuster.  Here’s a rundown on the senators who might be persuaded to vote with Republicans on key issues that informed the 2010 elections.

Senator Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, is completing his first term in the Senate.  In 2006, Brown defeated incumbent Republican Mike DeWine, winning 56% of the vote.  However, he can’t help but notice that, in 2010, Republicans won the statewide races in Ohio for U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer, state auditor, and secretary of state, as well as thirteen of the eighteen congressional races.  Ohio has turned decidedly Republican and Brown will be wise to keep his fingers on the pulse of people back home during the next two years. He is a prime “target” for Tea Party conversion.  Recent polls show that, as matters now stand, just 45% of Ohio voters would vote to reelect him.

Senator Kent Conrad, of North Dakota, a moderate Democrat completing his fourth term, has announced that he will not seek reelection in 2012.  As one who has no political future to protect, Conrad can be seen as one of the Democrats most likely to abandon Harry Reid.

Senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, was elected in 2010 to complete the unexpired term of the late Senator Robert Byrd.  Manchin was elected, in part, on the strength of his pledge that, had he been in Congress in 2010, he would have voted against Obamacare.  No Senate candidate in recent times has run as strongly against a president of his own party as Manchin did in 2010.  He will be given the opportunity to put his words into actions.  He can be expected to vote with Republicans for repeal.

Senator Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, is completing her freshman term in the Senate, having been elected with just 49.6% of the vote in 2006.  McCaskill is seen as a moderate on healthcare reform.  However, after voting in favor of Obamacare, McCaskill is now looking warily over her shoulder, saying that she is seeking alternatives.  And while Republicans will be looking to her as one of the Democrats most likely to turn her back on Harry Reid, she will likely be focused on the fact that Republicans won some 71% of the Missouri vote in 2010.

Senator Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, is completing his first full term in the Senate.  While Menandez would normally be considered safe… a liberal Democrat in a normally liberal state… he may be open to persuasion if former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs enters the race early and orchestrates a steady drumbeat of anti-Obamacare sentiment.  The popularity of New Jersey’s tough new Republican governor, Chris Christie, has many New Jerseyites believing in political and economic austerity as the wave of the future.

Senator Ben Nelson, of Nebraska, is completing his second term in the Senate and has decided to seek a third term.  However, Nebraskans have not forgotten the negative publicity he brought to the state as a result of the so-called “Cornhusker Kickback,” a deal offered to Nelson by Harry Reid in exchange for his vote for Obamacare.  A December 2009 Rasmussen poll shows GOP Governor David Heineman leading Nelson by a margin of 61-30%, with just 4% undecided.  So long as Republicans and Tea Party activists keep the pressure on Nelson it is difficult to see how he could vote with Harry Reid against the repealer. 

Senator Bill Nelson, of Florida, a former astronaut, is completing his second term in the Senate. A statewide poll published in July 2010 matched him against former Senator George LeMieux and former Governor Jeb Bush.  Although LeMieux scored only 49-28%, former Governor Jeb Bush polled just two points behind Nelson, 46-44%.  With Florida being home to millions of “snow bird” retirees, the estimated $638 billion in Medicare cuts that Obamacare promises over the next ten years will be a heavy load for Nelson to bear.  Nelson and Obamacare will represent “raw meat” for Tea Party activists.

Senator Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, a former member of the Michigan House and Senate, will complete her second term in the Senate.  Although several lesser-known candidates are mentioned as potential opponents, the most prominent name mentioned is that of former three term governor John Engler.  During his three terms as governor, he was best known for his privatization of state services, tax reduction, education reform, welfare reform, and a major reorganization of executive branch departments…precisely what is most needed at the federal level.  A March 2010 poll showed Engler leading Stabenow by one point, 42-41% with 10% undecided.  Given the economic basket case that is Detroit, Stabenow would have great difficulty defending liberal social and economic policies against Tea Party attacks.

Senator Jon Tester, of Montana, is completing his first term in the Senate.  In 2006, he defeated Republican incumbent Conrad Burns with just 49.2% of the vote.  Tester has accumulated an unusually liberal voting record, coming as he does from what is a reliably conservative state.  His support for Obama’s stimulus program and for Obamacare, coupled with the fact that he left Washington without voting to extend the Bush tax cuts, could prove to be major problems in his reelection bid.  He will be a favorite “target” of Tea Party activists.    

Senator Jim Webb, of Virginia, a Republican-turned-Democrat, is completing his first term in the Senate.  The former Secretary of the Navy defeated Republican incumbent George Allen by a margin of just 0.6% in 2006.  Not only does Webb represent a state with a Republican governor and a Republican attorney general who are taking the lead in suing the Obama administration over provisions of Obamacare, he may find himself involved in a rematch against Allen in 2012.  Webb is a leading candidate to vote with Republicans on repealing Obamacare.

In addition to these ten, Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana are seen as potential converts to the Republican cause.  Begich and Bennet were both elected with less than 50% of the vote, while Landrieu, one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, won reelection in 2006 with just 52% of the vote. 

In spite of what Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and other uninformed pundits might assume from the “conventional wisdom,” it is entirely within the realm of possibility that at least four of the senators listed above will vote with Republicans to repeal.

In the wake of the 245-189 House vote to repeal, majority whip Eric Cantor has challenged Harry Reid’s claim that he has the votes to defeat the repeal effort.  Cantor has called Reid’s bluff, challenging him to bring the repealer to the Senate floor for a straight up-or-down vote if he is confident it will fail. 

It represents a major dilemma for Reid… perhaps the greatest dilemma of his Senate career.   If he refuses to bring the repealer up for a vote because he knows he doesn’t have the votes to defeat it, the public outrage will be such that he will invite an even greater “humbling” in 2012 than the Democrats received in November 2010. 

On the other hand, if he takes the Republican bait and brings the bill to the floor for a vote, chances are very slim that he could hold all 53 votes in the Democrat caucus   the Senate vote might easily approach 56-44 in favor of repeal, with Bennet, Begich, Brown (OH), Conrad, Manchin, McCaskill, Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE), and Webb voting with the Republicans.     

Harry Reid came within a whisker of being defeated by a Tea Party candidate in 2010.  If he is now seen as being responsible for leading a majority filibuster against a Senate minority, or if he is responsible for the embarrassment of sending a repealer to Obama’s desk, approved by both the Republican House and the Democrat Senate… leaving Obama to twist slowly, painfully in the breeze, all by himself… it is hard to imagine that he will be able to continue in his leadership position.  It will be Harry Reid’s “Waterloo”… if that’s not too harsh a term for Democratic sensibilities.

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One Response to Harry Reid’s Waterloo

  1. Lee says:

    Outstanding analysis, Paul. Very few people take the time to analyze a problem realistically. Nothing is ever a foregone conclusion. The Tea Party is real and will police their wayward servants one way or another. Obama should be made, just once, to make a decision. He can’t vote “present” here.

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