Looking at the health care debate in the United States Senate, I more and more think that all the talk about messaging and so forth is a bit overblown. What we have instead is a specific question of pressure. One could imagine a world in which instead of serving as Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack was running for the US Senate seat currently held by Chuck Grassley. Vilsack would probably lose such a race, but one reason he would probably lose such a race is that Grassley could badly undercut his campaign by reaching an agreement with Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus to produce a bipartisan health care reform bill.
Similarly, if Janet Napolitano were running for senate instead of serving as Secretary of Homeland Security that might be giving John McCain some incentive to deal. Alternatively, if Senators George Voinovich, Judd Gregg, and Mel Martinez were running for re-election in 2010 they’d all be facing potentially challenging re-election battles and looking for an opportunity to play the bipartisan dealmaker role.
But none of that is the case. Really the only incumbent Republicans who I see being under any serious kind of political pressure are Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. And neither of them are particularly vulnerable, with each having badly beaten reasonably strong challengers in recent cycles.