Monday, November 08, 2004

Facing the Senate catastrophe
It really burns me when people dismiss the Democratic losses in the Senate as part of some kind of historical realignment of the South with the Republican party. As the prominent Kos guest blogger *DemFromCT* wrote, " The fact that southern states elected GOP senators is no more shocking than the idea that New England states may someday elect Dem senators to replace the last of the GOP moderates (assuming they, themselves, don't switch parties the way Jim Jeffords did)."

The general attitude seems to be that the Dems lost Senate seats in red states, and that this sort of thing is inevitable if mildly regrettable. This is just wrong. If followed through to its inevitable conclusion, then the Democrats will face a structural deficit in the Senate of about 60-40 for the next generation. It is easy to see why this is so just looking at a simple chart of what I'll call "misplaced" senators -- Republicans serving in states Kerry won by 3 percent or more, and Democrats serving in states Bush won by 3 percent or more.

Misplaced Republicans:
Susan Collins (ME)
Olympia Snowe (ME)
Norm Coleman (MN)
Gordon Smith (OR)
Rick Santorum (PA)
Arlen Specter (PA)
Lincoln Chafee (RI)

Misplaced Democrats:
Mark Pryor (AR)
Blanche Lincoln (AR)
Ken Salazar (CO)
Bill Nelson (FL)
Evan Bayh (IN)
Mary Landrieu (LA)
Max Baucus (MT)
Tim Johnson (SD)
Harry Reid (NV)
Kent Conrad (ND)
Byron Dorgan (ND)
Ben Nelson (NE)
Robert Byrd (WV)
John Rockefeller (WV)

Simply put, there are twice as many misplaced Dems as there are misplaced Republicans. You can argue that Nevada and Colorado are trending Democratic, so maybe the number of is 12 instead of 14, but either way, the Democrats must find a strategy to defend red-state seats or accustom themselves to being the minority in the Senate for a long, long time. If the seats above switched to the "correct" party, we'd be looking at 62 Republicans and 38 Democrats in the Senate.

Now of course, some of these folks are popular and will be around as long as they wish regardless of other partisan trends in the state (Dorgan, Chaffee, Bayh, Lincoln, Specter). But some will retire, and some will be challenged. If we can't do any better in heavily red states like North Dakota and Arkansas, we're going to be in serious trouble in the long-term. What kind of strategy should we be looking for?

For one thing, the Democrats should not be so endangered in the plains states. The party need not tilt toward extreme protectionism in order to be pro-farm. The Dems should also think seriously about making plains-state depopulation an issue, because small towns are dying in the middle of the country faster than rain forest in Brazil, and no one seems to know how to address it. If the Democrats could come up with some kind of positive "Agenda For Small-Town America," we might be able to hold those seats even if our most popular figures retire or move on.

The second thing is that we've got to pick off those blue-state Republicans before they can pick off any more red-state Democrats. Beating Santorum should be one of the biggest Democratic Senate priorities in 2006, especially because the guy truly is a loon. That means running a GOTV effort that matches the one PA managed this year. And the party should put serious pressure on Chaffee, Snowe, and Collins to switch parties or face extinction.

The third and final thing is to find some kind of strategy for the South short of compromising our most important ideals and values. We simply cannot afford to abandon that much of the country to the other guys without a fight. Unfortunately, I have no idea how we should do this.

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