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Posted by on Jan 7, 2010 in Economy, Health, Politics | 10 comments

The Byron Dorgan Thunderclap (Guest Voice)

WASHINGTON — A politically shrewd Senate Democratic staff member chatting about the future of health care negotiations stopped in midsentence late Tuesday afternoon as news flashed across his computer screen. “My God,” he said. “Byron Dorgan is retiring.”

It was a thunderclap moment in the politics of 2010, an unfortunate twist for Democrats already looking at a difficult election year. Dorgan, a veteran of three decades in Washington, suddenly turned his North Dakota Senate seat from one that Democrats had a reasonable chance of holding into a likely pickup for the Republicans.

Worse from the Democrats’ viewpoint, Dorgan’s move fed exactly the story line that Republicans have been pushing hard: Combined with the retirements of Gov. Bill Ritter in Colorado and of a number of incumbent House Democrats, Dorgan’s decision looked to be part of a mass flight of vulnerable members of President Obama’s party from a grim political battlefield.

But the retirement stories didn’t stop there, and the paradox is that by the time all the exiting was over on Wednesday, Democrats had reason if not to smile, then at least to give a sigh or two of relief.

The Dorgan news was quickly followed by Sen. Chris Dodd’s announcement that he would not seek re-election in Connecticut. His party’s operatives were torn in their responses.

Dodd is as well-liked in Washington political circles as he has become unpopular in his home state, and in theory, at least, the professionals wanted to put politics aside and mourn the end of his career. (“The guy deserves some respect,” lamented one of the party’s top campaign warriors. “Do we have to do politics 24 hours a day? And I’m paid to do politics 24 hours a day.”)

In practice, they were grateful Dodd withdrew. A seat once so promising for Republicans now seems safe for Democrats again as Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a longtime electoral winner, becomes the favorite.

Ritter’s retirement was equally a blessing for Democrats. They have strong potential candidates to replace him (including Denver’s popular Mayor John Hickenlooper and, possibly, Interior Secretary and former Sen. Ken Salazar). And Ritter’s move might save Sen. Michael Bennet from a Democratic primary — if his current challenger, former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, now runs for governor instead.

Such calculations and countercalculations underscored how truly complicated the political map for this year’s battle for the Senate has become.

Not even the most optimistic Democrats think their party can escape losing seats. But with so many states now unexpectedly in play, surprise Democratic victories could offset some Republican gains. On the other side, retirements — not to mention the moves of a certain president and vice president out of the Senate — have opened terrain for the Republicans that would normally be blocked.

All by themselves, Obama’s victory and his appointments to his administration threaten four previously solid Democratic seats: Obama’s old Illinois seat, Vice President Joe Biden’s in Delaware, Salazar’s in Colorado and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s in New York.

Republicans can reel off four other states where they currently have a better-than-decent shot at Democratic seats: the newly promising North Dakota, plus Arkansas, Nevada and Pennsylvania. And if the country is really gloomy on Nov. 2, the GOP thinks it has a shot at California.

Even this scenario would leave Republicans just short of a Senate majority, and Democrats are betting that they will easily hold New York and California, while hanging on to Nevada — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has relatively unknown opponents and will have a huge bank account — and Pennsylvania. Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln confronts the most difficult terrain of any Democrat this year, but she may profit from Republican divisions.

Then there are the Democrats’ wild cards: five Republican seats where some combination of strong Democratic candidates, divisive Republican primaries, or potentially weak GOP nominees offers a chance to offset losses.

In rough descending order of possibility, these include Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina and Kentucky. Democrats can’t bank on any of them, but just a win or two would buy their majority protection.

It’s thus very hard to see how the Republicans can take over the Senate. But with North Dakota changing colors, the Democrats’ map is not a happy one. If managing a barely filibuster-proof majority has been hell for the party’s leaders, this now seems to be one burden they won’t have to worry about next year.

This column is copyrighted and licensed to run in full on TMV. (c) 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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Copyright 2010 The Moderate Voice
  • JSpencer

    Everyone should be voting third party at this point……..(just thought I’d get all utopian for a moment 😉

    • Yeah, that is utopian. But much as I’m disappointed with the Dems and with Obama, the commenters here keep me aware of just how greedy, selfish, corrupt and immoral the GOP is. And then there’s what? The Tea Party and the Greens? Please.

      • ProfElwood

        Just curious GD, but what do have against the Greens? I’m one of those optimists that believe the new guys will eventually find their place, and we all need a political home. If the Greens don’t cut it, is that because they’re too small, or because you have a problem with their platform?

        • Actually, I don’t really know their platform well, and would probably love most or all of it. Sadly, the system now is as stacked against third parties as it is against any actual good government, which I define as “managing the public wealth for the public good, not private gain.”

          We have the best government money can buy, and we’ve been bled dry and beyond. I’m not very optimistic now about our future prospects. The entrenched interests that drive this plutocracy will never allow government to work for the people. And so far, the people are far too sheep-like to take control by direct means (by which I mean referendum, not revolution).

          It’s probably already too late. Those who think any more tax cuts are possible –ever–.are dumb as a box of rocks, yet that’s what the GOP falsely promises, time and again. By my accounting no one at or below median income pays ANYTHING for government services, just servicing the debt and our subsidy of their health insurance. No one commented, certainly no one challenged my calculations. That comment is here:

  • JSpencer

    GreenDreams, sorry to say, I mostly agree with your assessment. It seems to be such a cynical position to take, and yet there is so much evidence to support the contention. People are basically getting shafted in what was designed to be a government by, of and for the PEOPLE, but is in reality a government by, of and for the corporations, which includes the obscenely wealthy people who are connected to them in various ways. Of course the citizens of this country actually LET this happen, mostly through ignorance, but also through apathy, false loyalties, short-term greed, etc. What a shame. What a waste. Tragic in fact.

  • ProfElwood

    No one commented, certainly no one challenged my calculations.

    *ahem* I commented.

    There’s nothing much to argue with on the calculations, it’s more a matter of whether one cares or not. You even downplay the tea party groups when, for most of them, that debt is a large part of their concern (yes, including some of their benefits). So now we have:

    Democrats promising new benefits (new and improved: no middle class tax hikes!)
    Republicans promising new tax breaks (new and improved: no middle class benefit reductions!)

    But I’m still a little optimistic that it can be fixed, once people stop believing the lies, or at least get tired of jumping back and forth between the fire and the frying pan. Much of the debt is held by the Fed, which can be absorbed. Unfunded liabilities could be dramatically reduced if doctors, lawyers, bankers and all other protected industries were brought back in line. And corporate welfare could be carefully eliminated with only temporary impact on the overall economy.

    My pessimism is limited to the entrench party(s), not the actual logistics.

    • Well, if the right wingnuts want to “shrink government to a size that they can drown it in the bathtub” they have succeeded pretty well (actually they shrunk its spending power through borrowing until the debt prevents spending on national priorities). As I noted, just servicing the debt accumulated by “supply side” “voodoo economics” leaves next to nothing for government programs. And for all the GOP’s ranting *now* about the debt, they never proposed for a minute to use the surplus to reduce it. They dished the surplus out (Doled it out?) to their fat cat buddies and their own greedy selves. Then they doubled the $5.7 trillion debt we had when Clinton left office. NOW they’re screaming, because they want to spend freely on credit when they’re in power, then strangle *social* spending when they’re not.As for ownership of the debt, 21% is foreign (3 times the amount of money in circulation), 32% is held by investors in the US, and by government trust funds, and 45% by the Fed (essentially printing money, which dilutes all our spending power). Here’s a summary: don’t see how we can walk away from any of that debt, but I sure don’t see any way we’ll pay it off.In short, we’re screwed.

      • ProfElwood

        Well, if the right wingnuts want to “shrink government to a size that they can drown it in the bathtub”

        The phrase is “starve the beast” (just search for it, there’s plenty), supposedly a Republican strategy for shrinking the government. If so, it’s not a particularly bright one.

        Many sites list this as a strategy of Reagan, the champion of borrow-and-spend. Personally, I think they’re trying to resolve their hero’s conflict between his words and his actions, when he was really just paying back his pals in California.

        and 45% by the Fed (essentially printing money, which dilutes all our spending power).

        Which covers the other two of the ways that congress can tax us. But again, the Fed is currently a separate, privately owned entity (really entities) that have government powers. If congress turned it into a government owned entity, that 45% would become debt that the government owed to itself, and it could simply write it off. Granted, the 55% remaining isn’t chump change, but it would be a help.

        But the Democrats are by no means innocent, especially since they were just as much responsible for the bank bailouts and repeal of Glass-Steagall as Republicans were. They also championed The Social Security act of 1965, which created Medicare, without consideration of the effects that it would have on medical costs, and allowed congress to drain the trust fund. Then in 1968 decided to hide that theft with its “unified budget”.

        As I was researching other addons in other eras, I came across this little beauty and realized that the numbers wouldn’t mean anything even if I did find them:

        You may be more right than either of us expected.

        • Yes, it’s maddening, isn’t it? I met Chris Martensen last year. Brilliant and scary.

          And you’re right, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but it started with “Reaganomics,” “Thatcherism” etc. The senior Bush himself dubbed it “voodoo economics,” but when it turned out that the public was easily and cheerfully led to the slaughter, GHWB and GWB joined right in, and Clinton to a lesser extent. As for Congress, sadly we’ve seen that they’re in the pockets of the oligarchs; both parties.

  • DLS

    Thunder? Blazing lightning? What’s missing, a multi-megaton description, too? Stupid hype…but what do you expect from the DC fixture Dem crowd? (Dorgan and Dodd aren’t the only retirees among the Dems, and more Republicans than Dems are retiring.)

    I guess it’s a shock to those not only beholden to the Dems but to the welfare state, the overgrowth of Washington, and of course, the decades-long practice (stronger by the Dems, but also by the GOP) there of More. More, More, More.

    As I was ready to write elsewhere, I laugh at the shock and hype now. The real retirements will come with the real shocks (to those in such poor or demented condition they will be shocked), when Social Security and Medicare’s fundamental failures can no longer be deferred. Of course there will be a big rush to leave DC and leave responsiblity for having to say No More, and even have to start saying Less.

    Just wait until more taxes or borrowing or redirected spending needs to happen to keep Social Security and Medicare benefits paid in full — once the deficits can’t be ignored any longer. Then it’ll be “thunder,” lighting, the Apocalypse. What? No? No More?? Less??? [gasp]

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