So Much for Super Majority Status

For Democrats in the United States Senate after Martha Coakley claims an early lead for what my friend Nick Rothfuss calls the Kathleen Kennedy Townshend award, managing to lose to a conservative Republican in a statewide race in Massachusetts.  Because of Senate rules on obtaining cloture on floor debate, there is a huge difference between having a 60-40 lead in caucus size instead of merely 59-41.  In other words, a game-changing election.

In the coming days much will be made of the election results itself.  Obviously its not a great sign for Democrats to lose in one of the “bluest” states in the Union.  They will try to minimize it, faulting Mrs. Coakley’s campaign among other factors.  Republicans will try to maximize it, saying its a portent for things to come in November, a sign of the power of the Tea Party movement.  As with most things reality is in between.

Yes, Martha Coakley ran a bad campaign.  For starters, my understanding is she didn’t even campaign much until Senator Brown had made deep inroads and it was too late.  And Mr. Brown himself ran an excellent campaign.  But there is plenty of real voter anger out there, and Democrats would be stupid to dismiss or ignore it.  They have to address it, do a better job of explaining how their policy proposals and actions are helpful, show that they care.  Mostly, they have to deliver results.  Money talks.

As for Republicans they shouldn’t try to read too much into this race and simply assume they’ll claim great victories in November.  Maybe if yesterday had been election day everywhere they would’ve.  But it wasn’t and November is a long way off.  For one thing, the unemployment situation has months to improve, and if it does a lot of that untapped voter anger dissipates.  Also, the sword of the filibuster can be two-edged.  If they use it to completely logjam the Senate it’ll backfire.  Republicans can’t afford to look like obstructionists when the country is facing real, serious, and sizable problems.  Judicious use of the filibuster will be fine for them politically.  They can use it to spike the conference committee report on healthcare reform, if Congressional leaders even bother pressing on with that in its current form, because the measure has at best tepid public support.  But if its massively scaled back to some smaller points that Republicans don’t have philosophical differences with, then a filibuster could again backfire.  Basically what I am saying is don’t make assumptions and don’t overreach.

Back to the Democrats, there is one huge positive in this outcome.  Given they lack the votes to prevail in contested cloture votes (unless a Republican defects on the given issue) on one hand, but have more than enough votes to pass simple majority votes on the other, they should no longer feel any need whatsoever to kiss Joe Lieberman’s ass.

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