Senate Errors

Josh Marshall looks at the tough Senate outlook for Democrats in 2010, including apparently difficult races in Delaware, Colorado, New York, and Illinois, and concludes that “Bad Pick [i.e., for replacement senators] Have Consequences.”

I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. In Delaware, after all, the Democrats really seem to have made the best possible replacement pick, and it’s not clear to me that there was any better choice than Kristin Gillibrand. The bigger mistake it seems to me was letting some of these seats open up in the first place. The Obama team seems to me to have consistently underrated the extent to which the ability to play offense in the 2010 elections would determine the fate of their legislative agenda. Or to look at it another way, they placed an undue amount of emphasis on outreach and too little on inspiring fear, as a potential way to gain bipartisan support for a legislative agenda. Thus instead of encouraging Tom Vilsack, Kathleen Sebelius, and Janet Napolitano to run for GOP-held 2010 Senate seats, he appointed all three to his cabinet. And in addition to the one Senate seat left open by his own victory, he jeopardized safe seats in New York, Colorado, and Delaware by bringing Hillary Clinton, Ken Salazar, and Joe Biden into his administration. Then on top of that, Democrats failed to get the strongest possible candidate for a very winnable North Carolina race, and couldn’t persuade Houston Mayor Bill White to run for Senate rather than Governor.

Of all 100 U.S. Senators, really only Arlen Specter has spent a substantial amount of time worrying about his left flank . . . that makes it hard to pass progressive legislation. This wasn’t all 100 percent under Obama’s control—he couldn’t force Napolitano to run for Senate, for example—but insofar as it was under his control he doesn’t seem to me to have handled it particularly well. Is there some aspect of the DHS job that Susan Collins couldn’t do? I bet her replacement in the senate would have had a more constructive attitude toward health care.