One of the overlooked aspects of the upcoming elections this fall is Congress. Speaker John Boehner recently put Democratic chances at recapturing the House at about one in three, an assessment with which I would be inclined to agree. Also in play is the Senate, where Democrats are clinging to a slim margin over Republicans. In the Senate, I would say that there’s a 50/50 chance that Democrats will retain control, but if a trend that is beginning to emerge continues, then Democrats may be able to pull it off.
Last week, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana lost his primary battle to state treasurer Richard Mourdock, a tea party favorite and right-wing ideologue. Lugar has served on the Hill for over thirty years, and while the seat still leans Republican, running Mourdock over Lugar was not, in my opinion, a wise choice. Lugar was going to be reelected, no questions asked. Mourdock, while still the likely victor, will not be able to coast to the easy victory that Lugar could have expected.
In Nebraska, State Senator Deb Fischer, the Palin-backed Republican candidate for the seat being vacated by Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson won over establishment figure and favored candidate Jon Bruning. The Republican nominee will face former Senator Bob Kerrey, who at this point is badly trailing Jon Bruning. This is another case of the Republican rank and file opting for the ideological firebrand that’s not as likely to win the election, but voting for these bomb throwers feels a hell of a lot better than someone who would actually govern.
Primary results like these enabled the Democrats to retain control of the Senate in 2010. And again, the salvation of Senate Democrats may well be not the President, an improving economy, or the fact that they’re great at what they do (they’re not). The emerging tendency for the most extreme elements of the GOP to overrule the few pragmatists in the party could turn out to be the best thing to happen to the Democratic party since George W. Bush: not by any dint of their own appeal would Democrats prevail, but by their own sheer ineptitude may Republicans deliver the Senate to the Democrats, yet again.