Senate Finance Committee chairman and Obamacare draftsman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) follows a slew of Democrats in hanging it up rather than face the voters in 2014. Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Frank Lautenberg (N.J.) have already announced their retirements. Of the six open seats, the GOP should be competitive in all but New Jersey (and maybe Michigan). By contrast, only Republican Sens. Mike Johanns (Neb.) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) have announced they are leaving; both these seats almost certainly will remain in the GOP column.
National Republican Senate Committee communications director Brad Dayspring tweeted, “One by one, the architects of Obamacare (Baucus, Harkin, Rockefeller, [Ben]Nelson, [Chris] Dodd, [Kent] Conrad) choose retirement rather than face voters.” And pro-Second Amendment advocates can’t help but notice that Baucus voted against background checks, even though he was retiring. Democrats tried to console themselves with the prospect that former governor Brian Schweitzer may run. But it is still an off-year election in a state that voted for Mitt Romney. What exactly is the argument that Democrats will use to argue the state should stay in the blue column?
Schweitzer is no liberal star, and is likely to post himself as to the right of Baucus. Will Democrats desperate to keep the seat now express no qualms about electing a pro-gun senator? If they are sincere in their frustration over the gun legislation loss, then they should suit up a liberal who is not afraid to belly up to Obama’s agenda.
In any event, the retirement of yet another Democrat in the Senate says more about the Democratic Party than merely the unpopularity of its “historic” achievement, Obamacare.
With all these retirements, getting Dems to fall into line becomes that much harder for the president. Doesn’t Levin want to leave something more positive behind than the moniker “Rubber-stamped Chuck Hagel”? Maybe Johnson would like to be known as a guy who saved entitlement programs by reforming them, rather than a victim of Obama’s leftward lurch.
In addition, the en masse retirements suggest that Obama’s second term jaunt to the left, a gross exaggeration of a “mandate” from 2012, has been a bust. He might lose the Senate, make few gains in the House (where competitive seats are in short supply) and have accomplished very little (other than making permanent 99 percent of the Bush tax cuts). This may possibly make him more willing to accommodate Republicans on the budget and immigration reform. But then again, the president is not one to concede his own views are out of the mainstream.
And finally, the predicament of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is worsened. Other senators might leave. And the committee now must spread resources and effort over many open seats. (Progressive Kentucky‘s debacle in that state only made matters worse.) They’ll need to figure out which states can be saved and which are too far gone. (Sens. Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor might want to redouble their own fundraising efforts.)
Republicans, certainly, are more than capable of throwing away opportunities by nominating inexperienced, self-destructive extremists. Party insiders and smarter grass-roots groups swear they’ve learned their lesson. But so long as significant numbers of hard right-wing activists pine for the most conservative candidate in every race regardless of ability or how well they fit their state, these seats will remain elusive.