Opinion
Harry Reid. Susan Walsh/AP Photo. Harry Reid. Susan Walsh/AP Photo.  

Dethroning a warped, frustrated old man: Senate battle ’14

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Cliff Smith
Attorney
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      Cliff Smith

      Cliff Smith, a native of Seattle, has worked on Capitol Hill and in various other political and policy-focused capacities. He holds an MPP with a focus on international relations from Pepperdine University and a JD with a focus on international law from The Catholic University of America.

In “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Mr. Potter — a “warped, frustrated old man,” as his nemesis George Bailey called him, taunts George with utter ruin. George and his Building and Loan business has been struggling against Potter’s monopolistic grasp on power in town for decades. George has managed to just barely survive, driving Potter crazy, but he’s constantly being beaten into a corner. Now, Potter is convinced that George, beset with scandal of Potter’s making, will finally collapse, leaving him to run the town alone. But George and his friends have a better hand than Mr. Potter realizes. It’s Potter who is really facing ruin.

In our modern political drama, our Mr. Potter is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid has been Majority leader for eight years, the longest run since Mike Mansfield’s which ended in the mid 70’s. Reid has ruled with an iron fist, going as far as to twist the rules of the Senate to confirm Obama’s nominees, obstruct efforts to pass a budget, and otherwise force his agenda through at all costs.

Yet while his power has been vast, he hasn’t always gotten his way. His attacks on the “obstruction” of Republican “anarchists” have become harsher and harsher. His tactics and threats to twist the rules, such as his his condoning of President Obama’s “recess” appointments made when the Senate is not in recess, seem to be made under the assumption that he’ll be Majority Leader as long as he likes.

Many pundits, both partisan Democrats and pessimistic Republicans, seem to believe him. They seem to think Republicans have blown elections in the last two cycles, and are unlikely to dethrone Reid.

Let’s start by giving these pundits their due: Republicans blew elections in the last two cycles they should have won. Yet, Republicans lost by underperforming in states that were already difficult for them in recent years, namely Nevada, Colorado, Washington, and Delaware in 2010, and Wisconsin and Virginia in 2012. True, they lost in more friendly territory in Montana and North Dakota in 2012, but these states have a long history of electing Democrats to federal office, even while going Republican for President.

The landscape in 2014 looks quite different. Republicans can gain up to seven Senate seats just winning races in states where Mitt Romney won. This is a huge advantage.

Republicans are nearly assured two pickups and probably three. In South Dakota, former Governor Mike Rounds is running for an open seat being vacated by longtime Democrat Tim Johnson. Rounds doesn’t have a credible opponent and would be the overwhelming favorite anyway. In West Virginia, popular longtime Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is running for an open seat against mediocre opposition. She’s leading by over 20 points in the polls. In Montana, Rep. Steve Daines, is running and the Democrats’ A-list candidate, former Governor Brian Schweitzer, declined to run.

Democrats are also whistling past the graveyard if they don’t think they are in for it in Arkansas and Louisiana. Mitt Romney won both states by over 20 percent. Supporters of Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) insist he’ll be difficult to dislodge. But Pryor has dug in with his support of Obamacare just as the wheels are coming off. Pryor’s approval is in the high 30’s and his opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, a war hero, Harvard Law Grad, and a fundraising machine, already leads him in the polls. These are clear signs that Pryor will not only lose, but lose badly.

The Louisiana Democratic Party has been completely and utterly destroyed as a governing force by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal. They now control no statewide offices, neither house of the state legislature, and only one Congressional seat. Sen. Mary Landrieu is the last Democrat standing. She survived difficult elections in 2008, 2002 and 1996, but she never won more than 52 percent of the vote, running against weak opponents in bad years for Republicans.  This year will not only likely be a good year for Republicans, being a second mid-term under a Democratic president, but she has a very credible opponent in Rep. Bill Cassidy. She’s never run against opponents that have held federal office. Cassidy has connections to national fundraising and influence, and isn’t beset with baggage the way her last three opponents have been. Landrieu’s only hope is to get massive turnout in New Orleans, suppress turnout, and cut her margins in the rest of the state. She is in deep trouble.