A premature obituary for the moderate senator

October 26, 2012

Richard L. Hasen over at the Election Law Blog offers a worthwhile counterpoint to our argument in Morning Fix that the government may stay largely as-is after the 2012 election.

While Hasen agrees with our point that the presidency, the House and the Senate could remain very similar when it comes to partisan breakdown -- the crux of the point we made -- he argues that even in that case, a continual loss of moderates will actually make things more intractable.

From his piece:

Aaron Blake explores the (I believe strong) possibility that we’ll continue to have President Obama, a Democratic Senate, and a Republican House after election day.  He calls that a “status quo election.”

I don’t think that’s right.  The Senate is going to be a very different place, as Senate moderates from both parties leave.  With the absence of Conrad, Huchison, Lugar, Nelson, and Snowe, the Senate is going to be a much harder place to get things done.

Hasen then blurbs his law review article pointing to the implications that will have on the confirmation of Supreme Court justices.

Supreme Court nominees until recently enjoyed bipartisan support in confirmation votes. Justices Scalia and Kennedy were approved on unanimous votes, and Justices Breyer and Ginsburg had few votes against them.

More recent votes have seen much more substantial opposition to nominees along party lines. Chief Justice Roberts had 22 votes cast against him, all by Democrats and without any objections raised to his qualifications. Justice Alito had 42 votes cast against him (two more than necessary for a filibuster, had Democrats decided to filibuster), gaining yes votes from only two Democrats. Justice Sotomayor had 31 votes cast against her, garnering the support of nine Republicans. The most recent nominee, Justice Kagan, had 37 votes cast against her, gaining only five Republican votes. Opposing Senators did not raise any serious questions about the qualifications of any of these nominees.

Here's how that looks in chart form:


We generally agree with Hasen's point that moderates are leaving in big numbers, but we also think it's worthwhile to look at the people who could replace these Senate moderates. Conrad, Lugar and Snowe, for instance, could very well be replaced by a moderate Democrat (Heidi Heitkamp), a Blue Dog Democrat (Joe Donnelly) and an independent (Angus King), respectively. 

In addition, moderate former governor Tommy Thompson (R) has a good shot of replacing liberal Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), former Democrat Tom Smith (R) appears to have a real shot at upsetting Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and the former U.S. surgeon general under George W. Bush, Richard Carmona (D), is looking competitive in the race to replace conservative Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

In other words, there are plenty of Senate candidates this cycle who could continue to carry the moderate banner. It's even possible there could be more moderates if things break a certain way.

But overall, the long-term trend is definitely toward fewer moderates -- especially in the House.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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Sean Sullivan · October 26, 2012