Thursday, October 9, 2014

Independents: The Key to Democrats' Strategy to Maintain Control of the Senate

This article first appeared on The Epoch Times    

     By most accounts, the Republicans are going to gain control of the Senate in the November mid-term elections.  Republicans only need six seats, which seems to be well within their capability given the death spiral of President Obama's approval ratings.  If the past is any indication, presidential approval ratings reciprocally affect his party's candidates during mid-term elections - not a good sign for Democrats.

     However, recent developments within the last few weeks indicate that all hope may not be lost for Democrats who wish to maintain a majority in the upper chamber.  In a story that broke yesterday, the Democrats are going to spend $1 million dollars in South Dakota, a race, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) previously paid no attention to as he initially chalked the state up to Republicans.  According to reporting by Bloomberg Politics, "Public and private polls show Rounds [the Republican frontrunner], a former governor who easily won two terms, mired in the mid-30 [] [percent] with both Democrat Rick Weiland and former Republican Senator Larry Pressler [who is now running as an Independent] within striking distance. A fourth candidate, independent Gordon Howie, is trailing, but Democrats think his presence in the race is giving them a chance to win by siphoning conservative votes."

     As Bloomberg's Mark Halperin stated yesterday on Bloomberg television, Democrats will claim victory if either Weiland or Pressler wins in November.  Despite Pressler formerly belonging to the Republican Party, he endorsed Barack Obama twice and Democrats believe they can get him to caucus with them.  To clarify, the $1 million is not going to any one candidate, but rather, explicitly negative ads against Rounds. 

     A similar situation has unfolded in the highly anticipated Senate race in Kansas where Republican incumbent Pat Roberts (formally thought of as a lock for Republicans) now faces a seriously close race against Independent Greg Orman, after Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out.  It took judicial intervention to clear the way for Orman because Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach believed Taylor's dropping out violated Kansas election laws.  The Kansas Supreme Court disagreed, which allowed Taylor to drop out and clear the way for Orman.  Again, Democrats consider Orman a win because they believe he will caucus with them.  Taylor's presence in the race would have had the same siphoning effect as in South Dakota, which would benefit Roberts.

     Currently, of the 100 Senators, two are Independents and both caucus with Democrats.  However, reports over the past year indicated that Angus King (I-ME) could be willing or courted to caucus with Republicans, a major shift.  When asked about who he would caucus with if Republicans gain control in 2014, King stated, "I’ll make my decision at the time based on what I think is best for Maine."

     Relying on Independents is a bold and risky strategy for Democrats but also indicates that they are willing to support anyone who isn't a Republican (and vice versa likely for Republicans.)  Pressler from South Dakota has yet to come out and say he will caucus with Democrats.  But, provided there are more D's than R's in the Senate, Democrats will maintain their majority, regardless of how many Independents there are.  The trick for them, if all goes according to their plan, will be to court and whip these Independents to their side in the 114th Congress.        

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