Earlier today Josh first introduced MyDD's "Road to 60" list for 2008, which is already drawing some attention. To begin the profiles of the candidates initially selected for the list, I would like to present former Democratic Congressman Jim Slattery, a man who aspires to become the first Democratic Senator from Kansas in 70 years.
This fall, Slattery will be pitted against Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, an arch conservative perhaps best known among these parts for spending years as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee obstructing a key report on pre-Iraq War intelligence. Roberts' voting record is truly abysmal, his vote being key to Senate Republicans' strategy of setting the record for filibusters in a Congress. Among some of the more noxious votes of Roberts: repeatedly voting against health care for veterans including mental health (PTSD); voting against allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices; voting against increasing mileage standards for cars (CAFE) while voting in favor of tax cuts for oil companies... the list goes on. It's little wonder, then, that more Kansans disapprove of the job that Roberts is doing as Senator than at any other point in the last three years.
While Roberts has been, and if reelected would continue to be, a key cog in the GOP obstruction racket, Slattery would be an important vote for the Democratic majority in the Senate, one that would help break Republican filibusters. Slattery would not likely be the most progressive member of the Democratic caucus in the Senate; however, judging by his track record, he would likely be more progressive than not and, above all, a loyal Democrat. For starters here's Matt Stoller, with whom Slattery met last week (along with others from the Netroots including myself), on some of Slattery's positions in and out of Congress:
He was well-versed and passionate around progressive issues and told me he supported network neutrality (Google's definition where tiering is allowable but content discrimination is not). What impressed me was Slattery's record in Congress; he helped author the Clean Air Act and fought against Reagan's ploy to send military aid to the Contras in the 1980s.
Also, take a look at the 1993 vote on the Clinton budget when Slattery was still in the House of Representatives, a vote I think is very instructive. It was this vote that helped put in place the policies that led to a balanced budget and, some might argue, helped spur some of the economic prosperity enjoyed during the Clinton administration. A significant portion of the Democratic caucus in the House -- nearly 15 percent, in fact -- voted against the budget. Despite this trend and the political price he could have potentially faced, Slattery voted in favor of the Clinton budget, helping the measure attract 219 votes, and thus get passed into law. This was no easy vote. Many other red state members voted against the measure, as did others who like Slattery were running for higher office in 1994. Yet when push came to shove on the 1993 Clinton budget vote, Slattery was willing to stand with his party.
Slattery's contribution record in recent years also indicated the extent to which he has been supportive of the Democratic Party since leaving office in 1995. Over the past several years, Slattery has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the Democratic cause, backing not only incumbents and Democratic committees but also challengers and open seat race candidates alike.
But even moving beyond the type of Senator Slattery would be if elected -- and I do think he would be a good one for Kansas -- a Slattery victory would be important on a number of levels. For one, no Democrat since 1932 has won a Senate election in Kansas. That's right, 1932; Slattery would be the first Democrat in nearly eight decades to win a Senate election in Kansas. There is little symbolically that could top that.
And Slattery has a real shot at victory. During the first 12 days of his campaign, Slattery raised a whopping $288,000 -- not yet enough to reach financial parity with Roberts, but a great start nonetheless. What's more, the trend out of Kansas is looking better and better, with voters in the state increasingly willing to vote Democratic. Most recently in 2006, popular Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius won reelection easily and the Democratic slate for the House of Representatives won a more than respectable 49.6 percentage share of the statewide two-party congressional vote.
The polling on the race confirms that this has a real potential to be competitive. Recent surveys have shown Roberts struggling to get 50 percent of the vote in a head-to-head match-up against Slattery -- which is remarkable in and of itself considering the Democrats' track record in Senate elections in the state. The latest nonpartisan poll on the race from Rasmussen Reports shows Roberts up by just a 48 percent to 39 percent margin -- a single-digit spread.
Don't just take my word on the competitiveness of the Roberts-Slattery race. This weekend The Topeka Capital Journal reported under the headline "Slattery making gains in race" that "momentum [...] may be swinging toward the Democratic challenger."
The last point I will make on this race is this: Regardless of whether Slattery wins (and I do think he has a real shot at victory), his running of a competitive race greatly increases the likelihood of the Democrats ending up with 60 seats (or close to it) come January. Every dollar the Democrats spend spreads the GOP thinner and thinner by forcing Republicans to invest time in money in races they would otherwise spend on the more watched races from the more traditionally swing states. With the National Republican Senatorial Committee holding just 56 percent of the cash-on-hand of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Republicans will really have to ask themselves whether they can really afford to try to defend a seat in a state like New Hampshire or Colorado, where they already trail, when if they don't invest in a state like Kansas they could end up losing the seat as well.
So if you want to help the Democrats build a 60-seat majority for the next Congress, one that is significantly less susceptible to Republican filibusters on a whole host of important issues (including judicial nominations -- don't think for a second that they wouldn't try to obstruct a replacement for some of the more progressive members of the Supreme Court if Obama were elected this fall regardless of their posturing on the topic in recent years), head over to the "Road to 60" page today and make a contribution for Jim Slattery for Senate. Even $5, $10, or $25 could make a difference, so make your voice heard today.