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April 29, 2007

Deadline 2012

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

I've alluded to this before, but it's a statistic of such strategic significance that it's worth devoting a whole post to.  Here are the number of Senators who will be facing the voters in the next three elections:

Year Democrats Republicans
2008 12 21
2010 15 19
2012 24 9

Right now Democrats have a 51-49 majority.  Just because so many Republicans are at risk in 2008, we're likely to make big gains.  After 2010 I'd expect our Senate majority to be something like 57-43.  A filibuster-proof 60-seat majority is unlikely, but not impossible.  But we're almost guaranteed to lose a lot of seats in 2012 when several red-state Democrats face the voters.

This means that we have four years -- the next presidential term -- to get our biggest ideas like health care reform through Congress.  Our power will wane in 2012, and we may not get another chance like this for a very long time. 

It's one of the reasons why we ought to demand solid progressive commitments from our presidential candidates.  At this early stage, full policy specifics aren't obligatory, but there's no reason that anybody should be declaring their support for candidates who are unwilling to commit themselves, at least in broad terms, to ambitious left-wing goals.  I'd hate to waste the four years of our greatest power on a president who only wants to take us halfway.  There's a time for candidates who can make compromises and work across party lines, but that time isn't in the next four years. 

April 29, 2007 | Permalink


On the plus side, in 2012, if Democrats control the White House, Republicans will be in big trouble, because their bench is so weak.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Apr 29, 2007 5:01:54 PM

Also, the class of 2010 includes a lot of seats where we're unlikely to make gains; in particular the five Southern retirees from 2004 (NC, SC, FL, LA, GA). The only halfway decent shots will be AZ if McCain retires, PA if Specter retires, NH, maybe OH, and maybe KS if Sebelius or the party-switching AG will do it.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Apr 29, 2007 5:07:22 PM

I'll bet two chocolate chip cookies (I'm a big better) that the Dems will nominally have the 60 or more Dems votes for a filibuster-proof majority in 09, but until they get to 66 we don't have clear sailing (both because of blue dog defections on votes by Dems,,and a dearth of Repubs moderate enough to vote with the Dems. )

It is worth considering the possibility that the Congress will be more progressive than the President, even if Hillary, John or Barak wins. It is hard for the Congress to lead or dominate, but it is doable. Recall that the Dem. Congress voted to cut funds on Vietnam against the wishes of the Pres.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 29, 2007 5:10:42 PM

Re: 2010, I'd also add Kentucky, where Jim Bunning will either retire or lose and we have a pretty deep bench. I wouldn't count out FL and MO either.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Apr 29, 2007 5:15:00 PM

Student of American history that I am, I would caution Democrats to be especially careful of who they choose as V-P.

Gore and Cheney were both extremely powerful V-P, even without actually moving into the White House. But, more than once in American history, hope was destroyed, by accident. The most egregious case was the Whig William Henry Harrison, elected in the midst of a terrible economic depression, on the platform Henry Clay's American System, an early 19th century New Deal of economic development assistance and reform. It all went south, within a month of Harrison's inauguration, when the radical libertarian Tyler became President.

On the other hand, as far as the social and economic agenda is concerned, the best thing Kennedy could have done, was to be assassinated. Johnson exploited that for all it was worth, with his Great Society. (If only both of them could have stayed away from Vietnam . . .)

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Apr 29, 2007 5:56:40 PM

Why do you think it'll be that bad in '12? Looking at the list, I can only see about 4 seats that look like really bad risks--it wouldn't be good to lose all of them, but we'd still have a shot at retaining the majority. How many seats do you think we'd lose?

Posted by: Paul | Apr 29, 2007 6:06:54 PM

I think the Democrats can be say until we obtain 100 of the 100 seats, and then, and only then, can we expect them to do things that matter.

Posted by: akaison | Apr 29, 2007 6:22:28 PM

Paul, I'm guessing we'll be able to retain a majority. But passing something ambitious will probably require more than 51 Democrats.

Byrd, Conrad, and both Nelsons are retirement risks. Webb and Tester are in hostile territory. Depending on the political climate at the time, our OH, MO, and WA folks could see challenges.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Apr 29, 2007 6:23:00 PM

Thanks, Neil. This is really interesting data. Presumably by 2012 the Republican party will have had time to regroup from the Bush years as well, and present a much stronger challenge than they are presently.

You do make a good case for the urgency of this moment. Something to consider.

Posted by: Korha | Apr 29, 2007 6:23:17 PM

I can't believe you are making calls on an election 5 years in the future, and to say the Republicans have a weak bench for 2012 is ridiculous. who had heard of Obama in 1999?

Jim: If the Dems ever get close to have 66! senate seats, the Republcan party will move far to the left to prevent it. Neither the Dems nor Repubs are so electorally insensitive that this could happen, if it did it would mean the collapse of our two party system, something far more horrifying than anything the Bush administration has tried.

Posted by: Roy | Apr 29, 2007 6:23:36 PM

Roy: It is not clear to me that the Repub. party constituent groups are moveable to the left. Maybe the corporate conservatives, but surely not the religious conservatives or social conservatives. They have backed themselves into a corner by always saying to themselves 'base, base, base'.

But since they have, they are, to re-use a phrase, not partners for peace/governing. Compromise with the Repubs means giving them their way (or they will drag heels legislatively and attack politically).

Now, could a new party arise? It has happened several times before, but not since TR/progressive era, and that was temporary.

Does anyone have info on when any party held a 2/3 majority in the Senate? (66 seats)

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 29, 2007 6:37:52 PM

Jim: That is a fascinating question, but I suspect it has not been the case since the earliest days of reconstruction if ever. I am trying to figure out where I could find this information.

As to the Republican party constituent groups not being able to move that far, I think that it is important to remember that the party is a democratic institution, whose purpose is to win elections, if the situation gets any where near that bad for them it will be very easy for anyone who wants to put a brake on Dem power to take over the GOP. Add to that the party's limited role in who can run for senate, I hink that it is extremely unlikely that the anyone but the Dems core of the party would not be willing to upport someone far to the left of most of the US senate in order to protect one issue or the other. In this situation I can easily imagine a Repub to the left of Feinstein or Harry Reid.

Of course if that happened, for the left's political concerns, it would be happy days, who, except the most crazed partisan, cares if progressive measures are adopted by Republicans as their own issues, it just means that the country as a whole has moved in that direction.

Posted by: Roy | Apr 29, 2007 6:52:29 PM

Does anyone have info on when any party held a 2/3 majority in the Senate? (66 seats)

Answer: 1964 election – 68 seats going into the 89th Congress (1965-1966), at least according to Wikipedia.

Posted by: BC | Apr 29, 2007 6:58:01 PM

Roy and Jim, the Senate site has statistics. The Democrats had 68 seats in 1965-66.

Posted by: KCinDC | Apr 29, 2007 6:58:35 PM

KCinDC: thanks for the neat link: looks like more than a few Congresses had a 2/3 Sen. majority. I'll figure out how many and when and post it.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 29, 2007 7:49:27 PM

Neil, I don't know about the other states, but the shambles that the Republicans left Ohio in will probably take more than six years to wear off. I expect the Republican bench in Ohio in 2012 to be even shallower than it is now.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Apr 29, 2007 8:01:34 PM

i'm not willing to bet that the democrats, by 2012, will have done enough to retain what little faith i do have in them. the only reason i really back them to begin with is because they are marginally better than the republicans, who are corrupt and imcompetent.

if we get a decent single-payer health plan out of them, or some significant progressive social program of that magnitude, before 2012, it will not only be a fuckin miracle, but it will also make the urgency of that 2012 election significantly less palpable.

Posted by: rigel | Apr 29, 2007 8:45:28 PM

2008: NC, CO, ME, OK, KY and NH look like the Dems easiest pick ups.

2010: NC, NH, and KY for now.

Posted by: Karim | Apr 29, 2007 8:55:29 PM

Here's all the 2/3rd majorities I found from the Senate history page linked by KCinDC. My comments follow.

Pre-Civil War
1st 1789-91 18 of 26 Admin
4th 1795-97 21 of 32 Fed
5th 1797-99 22 of 32 Fed
6th 1799-01 22 of 32 Fed
8th 1803-05 25 of 34 Jefferson
9th 1805-07 27 of 34 Jefferson
10th 1807-09 28 of 34 Jefferson
11th 1809-11 27 of 34 Jefferson
12th 1811-13 30 of 36 Jefferson
13th 1813-15 28 of 36 Jefferson
14th 1815-17 26 of 38 Jefferson
15th 1817-19 30 of 42 Jefferson
16th 1819-21 37 of 46 Jefferson
17th 1821-23 44 of 48 Jefferson
18th 1823-25 31 of 48 Jackson
25th 1837-39 35 of 52 Dem

Post-Civil War
39th 1865-67 39 of 54 Rep.
40th 1967-69 57 of 68 Rep.
41st 1869-71 62 of 74 Rep.
42nd 1871-73 56 of 74 Rep.
43rd 1873-75 47 of 74 Rep.
60th 1907-09 61 of 92 Rep.
61st 1909-11 60 of 92 Rep.
74th 1935-37 69 of 96 Dem
75th 1937-39 76 of 96 Dem
76th 1939-41 69 of 96 Dem
77th 1941-43 66 of 96 Dem
86th 1959-61 65 of 100 Dem
88th 1963-65 66 of 100 Dem
89th 1965-67 68 of 100 Dem

- There are 30 of the 110 Congresses with 2/3 majorities - 17 before the civil war, 13 after (27% of total).

- Southern Democrats (or Jeffersonian Republicans) skew the view for both pre-civil war and after - each Congress's voting would have to be looked at to see if the 2/3 majority was significant.

- It seems clear that the Pol. Science 101 profs are right: Our history is a mix of near-party equity and one party rule.

- A major event can kick off a long period of one party dominance. The Jeffersonian/Jacksonian revolution was one. Civil War another. The Great Depression a third.

- Has the relative dominance of politics in the Reagan era now come to a close? Has the public had enough of Bushian governance, and start a period of Democratic dominance for an extended period. Indicators are mixed (Guliani polling near to Dem. candidates, and unparalled revulsion against Bush/Iraq/Rovian governance on the other.

I think the odds say the Repubs are due for a long period of eclipse, and large Dem. majorities could prevail until the Dems get excessive again in 20-40 years.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 29, 2007 9:05:55 PM

From the LA Times: President Bush's unpopularity and a string of political setbacks have created a toxic climate for the Republican Party, making it harder to raise money and recruit candidates for its drive to retake control of Congress

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 29, 2007 9:09:21 PM

I think it's too soon to declare that kind of victory. Democrats today aren't yet in even as strong a position as the 1994 Republicans (except that the hostile president is in the middle of his second term instead of his first).

Certainly a lot of people are sick of Republicans *now*, but don't overestimate the attention span of the electorate. A lot of their talking points may still play well if there isn't an unnecessary and very messy war around their necks. And by 2012, there very likely won't be - not the same one, at least.

Of course, this is all on the assumption that Bush doesn't start a war with Iran and use it as a pretext to cancel elections. Given the abundant evidence that there is no law whatsoever that he respects in even the slightest degree, I don't think it can safely be ruled out.

Posted by: Chris | Apr 29, 2007 10:03:58 PM

There are 30 of the 110 Congresses with 2/3 majorities - 17 before the civil war, 13 after (27% of total).

But only three since World War II and none in the last 40 years. While I agree that an unpopular war and an unpopular president does not augur well for Republicans in 2008, I don't think the Iraq war or the environment generally is in anywhere near the same league as the Great Depression or the Civil War.

Posted by: BC | Apr 29, 2007 10:09:05 PM

I don't think worrying about the elctions of '12 is a useful pursuit just yet - a lot can happen, and really, if the GOP can't get its act together for 08, there's not guarantees that things will be better in 4 years. I would point out that we can pick up Connecticut - it's not a net gain, but it is getting rid of Lieberman. I'd also point out that Corker's not a certainty to hold that seat. And I'd agree Ben Nelson's and Maria Cantwell's are vulnerable as are Webb and Tester - though who would be in line to take Webb's seat mystifies me when the VA GOP is lacking a lot of good bench.

But again, I think this is way way off. What we know in the Senate is that loss of majority and majority perks pushes a lot of senior senators out the door. I don't know that a lot of GOP Senators want to sign on for 10 or so years of minority status, especially if they lived through the last one.

Posted by: weboy | Apr 29, 2007 10:26:18 PM

I think Herseth would make for a strong challenge to Thune in '10. Don't count SD out just because it's a red state; not long ago it was one of only a handful of states to have 100% Democratic representation in Congress.

Posted by: Greg | Apr 29, 2007 10:55:51 PM

Whether or not there will be significant reform in health care isn't dependent on how many Dems are in Congress or the White House. The crucial point will be when big business decides it's had enough and gets en masse out of providing health insurance. I think it's inevitable that this will happen, but doubt it will be before 2012. As long as most middle-class people have coverage through their employers, there simply won't be sufficient political momentum for change. The insurance companies have made it clear that they will fight any significant change with everything they have, because it's a life-or-death issue for them. (They perceive, probably correctly, that any change is an opening for single-payer, and have shown they will therefore fight any change.) The pharm companies know that they'll survive either way, but that their profits will suffer under a reformed system, so they will continue to ally with the insurers. Given those actors' combined enormous resources, they will continue to prevail until the current system completely falls apart, as it will when most big employers finally pull out. The resulting crisis will create support for major change then. However, again, I doubt this will happen in time to take advantage of the 2008-2012 period. So whether or not "true progressives" are elected during this time is probably irrelevant to this issue, though that will probably be very important for some other issues.

Posted by: beckya57 | Apr 30, 2007 12:04:35 AM

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