Senate GOP: ready to lead?

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Just when Republican hopes of gaining the majority in the U.S. Senate appeared to fade following Christine O’Donnell’s defeat of insider favorite Mike Castle in the Delaware GOP primary, the roadmap seems to have sprouted new paths to 51 seats.

So many new paths, in fact, that it’s time to ask: What if Republicans do regain control of the Senate?  Would they be any better equipped than last time to enact a fiscally conservative agenda and restore economic vitality?  Or would their precarious hold on the majority leave them open to another quick reversal of fortunes?

New senators may find starting out in the majority is not the blessing they expected. The problems Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader, has had herding his near-supermajority would be matched — at least — by the problems Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would have trying to line up Republicans behind an agenda.

If Republicans did retake the Senate, it would be because a solid bloc of Tea Party-endorsed candidates — Sharron Angle in Nevada, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Joe Miller in Alaska, Ken Buck in Colorado, and maybe Christine O’Donnell in Delaware — prevailed in November.  Where would their allegiances lie?  With McConnell, the very face of the establishment many of them ran against?  Or Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., whose uncompromising brand of conservatism inspired many of their campaigns — and whose campaign cash underwrote several of them?

To further complicate matters, if you think Reid had trouble breaking filibusters — there were more of them, for longer, in the last year than in the entire decade of the 1960s — imagine trying to do it not with the 60 or, later, 59 votes his party controlled but with the 51 — at most — McConnell would have.

With the “DeMint caucus” holding effective control over the Republican agenda and at least nine Democrats having to be on board for any measure to receive a floor vote, it’s easy to understand why some think Republicans would be better off if they didn’t quite achieve a majority.

It’s also easy to understand why most pundits predict gridlock, regardless of which party controls the Senate after November.  President Obama can expect only his most popular and least painful initiatives to go through, and his opponents will find it virtually impossible to enact legislation that would provoke a veto.

What Americans want from Washington has become clearer.  They want fiscal conservatives who focus on the deficit and what overbearing government is doing to Main Street.  Right now, voter anger favors Republicans because a.) they’re not in power; and b.) they’re not held responsible for the economy or unemployment.  It’s a sure bet that if voters don’t see improvement quickly, they will become even angrier over the next two years.  It’s also likely that this anger will be broadly targeted at any incumbent, regardless of which party holds the nominal majority in either chamber.

That’s why, regardless of whether Republicans retake the Senate, they better come prepared with a serious agenda and concrete solutions to restore economic vitality and America’s fragile self-image.  Otherwise, those up for reelection in 2012 will be sent home faster than France was dispatched from this year’s World Cup.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are the co-founders of ProjectVirginia and CivicForumPAC, and the co-creators of TurnNevadaRed.com.