Republicans’ Senate silver lining

November 30, 2012

It's not an easy time to be a Republican these days.

Not only did the party lose at all three levels -- presidential, Senate, governor -- on Nov. 6 but the 2012 election also exposed long-term demographic problems for which the party has no easy answers.

And yet, amid the dark cloud cast by the election a silver lining has begun to appear in the form of two top-tier Senate recruits for the 2014 election.

Earlier this week, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) announced her plans to challenge Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) in 2014, a major recruiting coup for the party who had long tried to convince Capito to run for higher office.

Then Thursday former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) made clear that he, too, will run for the Senate in 2014, taking on Sen. Tim Johnson (D).

In both states, Republicans now have their strongest possible candidate in the race early, which has several benefits. First, it could smoke out Rockefeller and Johnson to make crystal clear whether they intend to run again. (Both have said they intend to do so but remain real retirement possibilities.)  Second, it allows them the time to raise the big sums of cash that it takes to run for the Senate these days even in relatively inexpensive states like South Dakota and West Virginia.

To be clear, not all the news is good for Republicans -- even in these two states. While Capito is widely regarded as the GOP candidate with the best chance of knocking off Rockefeller or winning an open seat, some fiscal conservative outside groups led by the Club for Growth have expressed skepticism about whether she is sufficiently loyal to party principles on fiscal matters to be the standard-bearer. And some conservatives have grumbled about Rounds' record on taxes during his time as governor.

If those doubts/concerns turn into conservative primary challenges to Capito and Rounds, then what looks like a good thing for Republicans today could turn into the 2014 version of Delaware, Nevada, Missouri or Indiana later in the cycle.

But, for today, Rounds and Capito running are some welcome -- and rare -- good news for a Republican party in search of it.  If Republicans are going to get back to the White House and into the majority in the Senate, it begins with finding candidates that can win.  Rounds and Capito are two.

The deal the GOP rejected: Republicans on Thursday rejected a "fiscal cliff" deal that GOP aides now say included at least $50 billion in stimulus spending, $1.6 trillion in new revenue from tax rate increases on the wealthy, $400 billion in savings from federal health and retirement programs, and called on Congress to relinquish control of the debt limit.

The deal was offered by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. It did not call for closing any tax loopholes -- the alternative the GOP has suggested to raising rates on the wealthy.

Republican leaders said earlier in the day that the White House wasn't showing signs of being serious about negotiating.

This strikes us as the opening Democratic wager in lengthy game of poker.

Fixbits:

Obama's post-election bounce is over, with his approval rating dipping below 50 percent, according to Gallup.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says that if Senate Democrats weaken that chamber's filibuster rules, the GOP-controlled House will kill any bills that pass the Senate without Republican votes.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appears likely to stay on for Obama's second term.

Americans are now evenly divided on the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana.

The First Dog, Bo, stars in a new Christmas video.

Must-reads:

"Debt ceiling redux: Lawmakers push to link fiscal cliff deal to the national debt" -- David A. Fahrenthold and Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

"In Colorado, Seeking the New Normal in Marijuana Use" -- Jack Healy, New York Times

"Why President Obama Isn't Using His Most Powerful Weapon — Again" -- Ben Smith and Zeke Miller, BuzzFeed

"What is the ‘Gang of Eight’ (and who’s in it)?" -- Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post

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Sean Sullivan · November 29, 2012