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News from the Votemaster            

Murray Wins Fourth Term     Permalink

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) won a close race against Dino Rossi (R). The ballots are not fully counted yet, but her lead of 46,000 votes is insurmountable at this point and Rossi has conceded defeat. This was Murray's fourth election as a senator and by far her toughest race. In 2004, she had a comfortable 12% margin, in 1998 it was 16%, and in her first run (1992) it was 8%. This time it will be under 2%.

As a consequence of Murray's narrow victory, the Democrats (including the independents who caucus with them), will have 53 seats in the new Senate, compared to 59 now. While hardly a good showing, it is not as bad a drubbing as they took in the House, where they lost a quarter of their members. In the Senate it was only 10%. Also noteworthy, is that in the House, dozens of elected incumbents were defeated, often by large margins. In the Senate, only two elected members, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) were defeated. The other four general-election losses (Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania) were all open seats, with no incumbent running. These are always much harder to defend. Ironically, the two senators who were beaten in the general election are one of the most liberal senators (Feingold) and one of the most conservative (Lincoln), so it is hard to draw any ideological conclusions from that.

In closely related news, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), has said he will not become a Republican. Sometimes after a wave election, people switch sides, but leaving the majority to become a member of the minority is pretty rare. Also, Nelson is keenly aware of what happened to Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) when he changed sides: he was primaried and lost. Nelson is far better off being the Democratic nominee in 2012 and fighting in a general election in which independents and Democrats can vote than in a Republican primary, in which they can't.

Alaska Senate Race Far from Over     Permalink

Although 83,000 Alaskans wrote in a candidate for senator in Tuesday election, and this number is 13,400 more than than total votes runner-up Joe Miller (R) got, it is far from clear who won. For one thing, no one knows yet who the write-in votes were for. In addition, many of them are surely going to be ruled invalid. In addition, there are almost 38,000 absentee, early, and provisional ballots that have to be counted. Finally, the overseas ballots are still coming in and will be counted if they arrive before Nov. 17. It will be weeks before we know who won. On the other hand, Murkowski has said she will caucus with the Republicans so the partisan composition of the Senate does not depend on the outcome.

But even though both Murkowski and Miller are both Republicans, they are hardly interchangeable. Murkowski is the fourth most liberal Republican (after the three Republicans from New England, Scott Brown, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins). Miller is a fire-breathing conservative. Murkowski might be willing to work with the Democrats on some legislation; Miller would join Sen. Jim DeMint's tea party faction in the Senate and oppose everything the Democrats want to do as a matter of principle. Also, if Murkowski is ultimately seated, her relationship with minority leader Mitch McConnell is going to be as frosty as Fairbanks on Christmas day. Since he did everything he could to see her defeated, she is not about to be taking orders from him.

Also, a Murkowski victory will send a signal to every incumbent that if you lose a primary, you can just continue your campaign as a write-in candidate. However, such a decision will not be free of consequences. In Alaska, the Democratic candidate was so exceptionally weak and the Republicans have such a huge majority, that even with a bad split of the Republican vote, the top vote getter was a Republican. In a state that has 50% Democrats and 50% Republicans with a strong Democrat, having two Republicans running, one as the official candidate and one as a write-in, would virtually guarantee victory to the Democrat.

Quinn Elected to Full Term in Illinois     Permalink

Gov. Pat Quinn (D-IL), who got his job when his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich (D), was impeached and convicted, was elected to a full term as governor on his own in a very close race by about 19,400 votes out of a total of 3.4 million. The news means that the governorships of the five most populous states are split three to two, with Democrats controlling California, New York, and Illinois and Republicans in charge of Texas and Florida.

Minnesota Race for Governor Still Undecided     Permalink

Two governor's races remain open. In Minnesota, former senator Mark Dayton (D) leads state representative Tom Emmer (R) by 9,000 votes. A recount is likely here. It is unlikely to go on anywhere near as long as the Franken-Coleman recount in 2009 because Dayton's lead is 30 times what Coleman's lead was. Getting 9,000 votes tossed out is a very steep hill for Emmer to climb.

Chaos in Connecticut     Permalink

In Connecticut, a real mess is developing. Both Dan Malloy (D) and Tom Foley (R) have declared victory and both have set up transition teams to plan how they will govern. This is more about PR than about votes or the law. When one of them has assembled his cabinet and invited the press for a photo op in front of the governor's mansion, he will be able to say "If the other guy would just concede we can start working to create more jobs" it puts pressure on the other one to concede, even if he won. Much of the problem revolves around Bridgeport, which is a heavily Democratic city. Many precincts ran out of ballots and when they finally got them, it was time for the polls to close. The city got a judge to order the polls to stay open for another two hours so people standing in line could vote. The Republicans are probably going to court to get these votes thrown out. This is one of those situations where some "activist" judge is going to have to make a seat-of-the-pants decision, as nothing in the U.S. or Connecticut constitutions deals with the problem of voting places running out of ballots while people are standing in line to vote. Excluding Bridgeport, Foley has an 8,400-vote lead, but Bridgeport has 71,500 registered voters, 63% of whom are Democrats. If turnout is, say, 40%, and everyone votes for his or her own party, it would net Malloy about 7,400 votes, putting Foley 1,000 votes ahead. Under those conditions, there will surely be a recount and a court battle.

The Game of Chicken over the Bush Tax Cuts is Starting     Permalink

Congress will reconvene this month in a lame-duck session to decide what to do about the Bush tax cuts, which expire on Dec. 31. If Congress does nothing, all tax rates revert to what they were at the end of the Clinton administration. Nobody in Congress wants tax rates to go up during a recession. President Obama wants to make the middle-class tax cuts permanent and let the tax cuts for people making over $250,000 a year expire. About 2% of the population falls into this category. The Republicans want to make them all permanent--despite many of them having campaigned on a platform of reducing the deficit.

Obama has apparently learned little from his first two years in office and Tuesday's election, as he is already backtracking from his earlier stated position on the tax cuts, even before the negotiations with the Republicans begin. Initially he stated he would veto any bill that kept the tax cuts for the rich. Then he said he could live with making the middle-class tax cuts permanent but extending the upper-bracket ones temporarily. Now he is saying he is open to having all the extensions be temporary. But if they come up again in 2012, they will be an election issue again and the situation we have now will just be repeated in another election year. Any good negotiator will tell you that you first insist on something far more than you really want or expect to get, then after much tough negotiating with the other side, you generously offer to drop your position and accept the amount you really wanted in the first place. Because the bill to extend the tax cuts will come up before the new crop of senators and representatives is seated, Democrats will still have huge majorities in both chambers of Congress. In the House, still-Speaker Nancy Pelosi can ram through anything she wants. The Democrats have only 59 seats in the Senate, so the Republicans can filibuster the bill, but they probably don't want the headlines to read: "Republican filibuster kills tax cut." It is definitely a battle of wills but the Democrats are in a far stronger position to get what they want if they stick together, something they have a lot of trouble doing.

The Job Nobody Wants     Permalink

In an era of high unemployment, there is one high-prestige job nobody wants. However, the potential applicant pool is fairly small--only 40 people are even eligible to apply. Also, the job is very stressful and you don't get paid for doing it. The position is chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. To apply, you have to be a Democratic senator not up for reelection in 2012. Of the 53 Democrats in the 112th Senate, 23 are up for reelection, leaving 30 potential candidates. With so many seats to defend, even in a presidential election year, vast amounts of money will have to be raised. Not surprisingly, nobody wants the job. If the Democrats lose control of the Senate, the DSCC chairman gets blamed. On the plus side, the person gets a huge amount of national exposure and a successful year allows a young senator to leapfrog the Senate's seniority code and jump into the leadership quickly.

The job is so stressful, however, some of the potential candidates, including senators Mark Warner, Jeff Merkley, Jeanne Shaheen, Al Franken, Mark Begich, Tom Udall, and Mark Udall have already taken themselves out of the running. Majority leader Harry Reid will be hard pressed to find somebody to do it. Alread there is speculation that he will ask Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY to do it for the third time in four cycles. Schumer picked up 14 seats in his two previous terms as DSCC chairman and the Republicans have learned to fear his close ties to Wall Street and his fund-raising prowess.

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