Confident that the mainstream media will help place the blame for the looming government shutdown on the Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) refusal to negotiate with GOP leaders to avert that possibility may well be seen, in retrospect, as the turning point that lost the Senate for the Democrats in the 2014 mid-term elections.
Reid continues to publicly insist that he won’t negotiate with House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) or Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) on any topic, and especially not on the budget or Obamacare. Democratic talking points have consisted of name calling and little else.
Meanwhile, House Republicans have already compromised and are regularly indicating on an almost hourly basis their willingness to meet in person to compromise further. Such offers have not even been entertained by Senator Reid.
House Republicans moved off of their original position of defunding Obamacare, the bill rejected by the Senate on Saturday, to a compromise bill that merely delayed Obamacare implementation by a year. On a party line vote, Reid’s Democratic controlled Senate rejected that compromise House proposal on Monday. Now, an increasingly belligerent Reid has announced he will reject any further compromises offered by the House, thereby continuing the partial government shutdown that began when the clock struck midnight on October 1, 2013.
The public does not appear to be blaming only the Republicans for the current impasse, as was the case during the government shutdowns of the 1990s. Even some in the mainstream media are finding it difficult to continue pushing the “mean Republicans” narrative in light of Senator Reid’s intransigence.
A recent Pew Research Poll for instance, indicates that the public blames both parties equally for any shutdown.
According to the poll of 1,003 adults conducted between September 19 and September 22, 39 percent blame Republicans and 36 percent blame the Obama administration. Since the poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percent, this amounts to a virtual tie.
Significantly, the poll’s sample of adults only (not screened for either registered or likely voters) is skewed heavily Democratic. 33 percent of the respondents were Democrats, while only 25 percent were Republicans. In polling terms, this sample is referred to as “Democrat plus eight percent.”
These results are in stark contrast to a similar poll conducted by Pew Research during the 1996 government shutdown, when 46 percent blamed Republicans and 27 percent blamed the Clinton administration.
A national poll of adults taken more than a year in advance of the 2014 mid-term elections is not a very good predictor of Senate election results in specific states. However, there are some trends in the Pew Research Poll that suggest Harry Reid’s attempts to pin the blame on Republicans has a strong possibility of backfiring. It could, in fact, lose the Senate for the Democrats.
The numbers in the Senate at the outset are not promising for the Democrats.
The 113th Congress in session now currently has 51 Democrats, 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Angus King (I-ME), and 46 Republicans in the Senate. After the October special election to replace Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who died in office, there will likely be 52 Democrats and 2 indepedents who caucus with them, giving the Democrats a 54 to 46 advantage over the Republicans.
Of these 100 seats, 35 are up for grabs in 2014. 21 of these seats are currently held by Democrats, while only 14 are currently held by Republicans. The Cook Political Report recently classified only 17 of these 35 seats as “competitive” in the general election. The bad news for the Democrats is that 14 of these “competitive” seats are currently held by members of their party, while only 3 are held by Republicans.
The news gets worse for the Democrats.
To regain a 51 vote majority in the Senate (Vice President Biden, a Democrat, is empowered by the Constitution to vote as a “tie-breaker” when the Senate is knotted 50-50), Republicans need to hold all 3 of their competitive contests, and take away at least 5 of the 13 competitive Democratically held states.
Mitt Romney won 5 of the 14 states competitive states as classified by the Cook Political Report where incumbent Democratic senators are up for re-election by a resounding margin that ranged from 14 percent in Montana to 27 percent in West Virginia.
In Montana, where incumbent Democratic Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), who recently called Obamacare “a train wreck,” is retiring. Mitt Romney won the state in 2012 by 55 percent to 41 percent, a 14 percent margin.
In South Dakota, where incumbent Democratic Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) is retiring, Mitt Romney won by 58 percent to 40 percent, an 18 percent margin.
In Arkansas, incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) is running for re-election, but Congressman Tom Cotton (R-AR) is leading in the polls and is expected to mount a well financed challenge. Romney won here by 61 percent to 37 percent, a 24 percent margin
In Louisiana, incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is running for re-election. Romney won here by 58 percent to 41 percent, a 17 percent margin.
In West Virginia, long time Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is retiring. Romney won here by 62 percent to 35 percent, a 27 percent margin.
In contrast, Barack Obama carried only 1 of the 3 competitive states as classified by the Cook Political Report where incumbent Republican senators are up for re-election. Maine. That state’s Republican Senator, Susan Collins, is hardly the kind of fire breathing conservative that can fire up opposition from the left. It seems likely that Collins will win re-election in 2014.
As the Harry Reid engineered partial government shutdown continues, incumbent Democrats in the 5 competitive states that Mitt Romney won resoundingly in 2012 look increasingly vulnerable, particularly in light of the new Pew Research Poll results as adjusted to reflect the actual partisan breakdown of likely voters in each of these states.
The Pew Research Poll did not break down attitudes about blame for the pending government shutdown by state, but it did offer some good evidence about how Republicans, Democrats, and independents view the blame game differently.
Applying those partisan attitudes to the specific partisan splits in each of these 5 vulnerable Democratically held Senate seats suggests that the current government shutdown is going to damage these 5 at risk Democrat senators electorally in a very significant way.
Simply changing the “Democrat plus 8 percent” partisan breakdown of the sample used nationally in the Pew Research Poll that blamed Democrats and Republicans equally to reflect the partisan breakdown actually seen in these states in the 2012 Presidential election– “Republican plus 14 percent” in Montana, “Republican plus 27 percent” in West Virginia–it seems likely thatin these 5 states, the blame for the government shutdown will fall heavily on the Democrats, not the Republicans.
Harry Reid’s insistence on forcing a government shutdown has increased the already strong likelihood that Republicans will take away Democratic senate seats in at least 5 states–Montana, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. It has also hurt Democratic prospects in a sixth state–North Carolina, where Romney won a narrow 50.6 percent to 48.4 percent victory in 2012, and incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan is seen as very vulnerable, especially since conservative Republicans successfully took over the state legislature there in 2012.
A year out, the prospects for a potential 52 vote Republican Senate majority in the 114th Congress that will convene in January 2015 look very good indeed. While Republicans may not want to mail their thank you notes to Democratic Majority Leader Reid quite yet, they may want to make sure they have a good supply of stationery on hand just in case.