Senate Republicans Turn Bearish on 2008

Common wisdom as of the beginning of this election cycle was that although the Democrats would have an opportunity to pick up a handful of seats in the Senate this year, 2008 would provide a better opportunity for the party to hit the magic number of 51 -- or even more. Notable pick-up opportunities for Senate Democrats in the next cycle include Colorado, Oregon, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Virginia (as well as perhaps Georgia, North Carolina and Texas). Nevertheless, Democratic success in 2008 is certainly not a foregone conclusion as few GOP Senators appear to be headed for retirement -- particularly in swing states -- and the most endangered GOP incumbents will likely have tons of money on-hand.

With the race for the Senate in 2008 still so wide open and few people believing that Liddy Dole will stay on as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, many have assumed that the position would go to John Thune, the ambitious freshman from South Dakota. But as Kevin Woster reports for the Rapid City Journal, Thune no longer wants the post.

Sen. John Thune said Sunday that he would not seek the job as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a position seen as a springboard to the upper echelon of GOP Senate leadership.

Thune confirmed in an interview with the Journal late Sunday afternoon that he had told Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the second-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, on Thursday that he would not run for the committee chairman's spot. That ended months of speculation that Thune -- who rose quickly to prominence for a freshman senator after his upset win two years ago over Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle -- might take over fundraising and candidate recruitment efforts for the GOP in the 2008 elections.

Make no mistake, this announcement by Thune is extremely telling even if he claims his decision was based on family considerations. That an up-and-coming star of the Republican Party from a state that Bob Dole even carried in 1996 is unwilling to take a post that he has flirted with almost since the day he entered the Senate is stunning evidence of the lack of confidence that many Republicans -- including red state Republicans -- have in their party today. If John Thune, a party hack who owes his 2004 victory to the White House and to the current Republican leadership in the Senate, doesn't believe in his party's chances for 2008, what then do the shakier members of the caucus such as Norm Coleman, John Sununu, Gordon Smith and Wayne Allard (all of whom will likely face strong challenges during the next cycle) believe?

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Those Trifecta Blues

Given the run of good polling the Dems have been having in recent months, a young lefty's fancy has been turning to thoughts of actually being in charge. (Old lefties too, of course.)

Even given a result in November at the very highest end of expectations, though, the (thitherto mythical) Bush veto will be a bar to anything remotely resembling a lefty program.

(The pivot MC in each house for a veto override is in the 67th percentile of members ranked in ideological order. Since the Dems are not going to win the Senate 67-33, or the House 290-145, the pivot member is going to be a GOP. And not a RINO either, obviously.)

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Gordon Smith Abandons Oregonians -- Again

I'm sure Republican Senator Gordon Smith is a nice guy, and from what I've heard, his constituent services are top notch. But why he believes he can consistently vote against the will  of his constituents in a Democratic state like Oregon is beyond me.

Earlier this month, we pointed to Smith's seeming support of the effort to widen a tax loophole that allows the extremely wealthy to skirt federal income taxes by buying a summer home in the U.S. Virgin Islands, even though he purports to be a moderate in favor of smaller deficits. No matter, of course, that the loophole would widen the already enormous federal deficit while aiding few, if any, Oregonians.

But Smith's deafness to Oregonian sentiments is not at all limited to helping out campaign donors in the Virgin Islands, where Smith has picked up $47,000 in contributions this cycle. On Tuesday, Smith voted no on Kent Conrad's pay-as-you-go amendment to the budget bill, which would have restored a semblence of fiscal responsibility to Washington by requiring offsets for any new programs or tax cuts. Once again, so much for fiscal moderation.

Smith did not stop there on the budget bill. When time came to vote up or down on the entire package -- which included a provision that would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve for drilling (something Smith has claimed to be opposed to) -- Smith voted "aye." While voters in Oregon care deeply about the environment and are not in support of drilling in the pristine reserve in Alaska, Smith showed that his allegiance is not to his constituents but rather to his party.

Outside of Gordon Smith, Republicans don't win statewide elections in Oregon, period. True, Smith has been able to defeat fairly strong opponents in two previous elections by running as a moderate, but time and time again, on key votes, Smith toes the Republican Party line rather than backing his own constituents. Sure, Smith votes down the middle on filler votes, padding his record and allowing him to earn solid middle-of-the-road rankings from outlets like National Journal. Nevertheless, when the time comes for him to take a real stand against his party, he loses his spine and executes the biddings of Karl Rove and Bill Frist.

Smith isn't up for another two years, but as we learned in 2002, when Democrats waited too long to settle on a candidate, it's never too early to start the recruiting and the campaigning. Oregon has an impressively deep bench of accomplished Democrats available to move up the line, whether it's Governor Ted Kulongoski, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Congressman Peter DeFazio, Congresswoman Darlene Hooley, Congressman David Wu, Attorney General Hardy Myers, Treasurer Randall Edwards, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo, Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner, Senate President Peter Courtney, Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, House Democratic Leader Jeff Merkley... the list goes on. Suffice it to say, there is no shortage of accomplished Democrats in the state. The only question is if one of them is willing to go up against a well financed and personally wealthy incumbent like Gordon Smith.

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Gordon Smith: Disappointing Oregonians for Nearly 10 Years

As a direct result of policies almost exclusively supported by President Bush and the Republican Congress, the both the federal deficit and the national debt are expanding to levels never before seen in American history. Just yesterday, for instance, the Congressional Budget Office reported that Bush policies, which have already increased the national debt by $3 trillion over the past five years, will increase the debt by another $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

And there are real consequences to the burgeoning national debt. When this debt is created, someone is buying it, whether it is a new grandmother in Iowa buying a $500 bond for her new grandchild or the government of China buying hundreds of billions of dollars worth of American debt. It is no wonder that key American infrastructure is being sold off the the highest foreign bidders.

While all of this has been happening, a loophole in the federal income tax code was found that effectively allows the extremely wealthy to only pay a 3.5 percent rate on their income. All these extremely wealthy people had to do in order to decrease the share of taxes they need to pay each year -- which in the aggregate has robbed the treasury of an estimated $400 million -- is to own a home in the United States Virgin Islands. Congress finally got rid of this loophole in 2004, mandating that the lowered rate only applies to those who actually live in the U.S. Virgin Islands for half of the year, and that simply owning a home there would no longer be sufficient. Then, as Stephanie Strom reports for The New York Times, some very wealthy people exerting a little influence in Washington.

In response, the Virgin Islands Tax Working Group, which represents people who benefit from the break, paid $200,000 last year for lobbyists, according to records compiled by Political Money Line, a nonpartisan campaign finance tracking service. At least one senator, Gordon H. Smith, Republican of Oregon, has been saluted in the islands at a fund-raiser on his behalf attended by several beneficiaries of the program.

[...]

Chris Matthews, a spokesman for Senator Smith, who sits on both the energy committee and the finance committee, confirmed that the senator attended a fund-raiser for him in the Virgin Islands last year. Mr. Matthews said Mr. Smith had subsequently chatted with some of his colleagues about his concerns that the tighter regulations were hurting law-abiding businesses.

To be fair, it's not clear from the article that Smith has changed his position, or that he has committed to support proposed legislation to once again weaken tax restrictions on the islands to allow for more people to make use of the loophole. But the fact that Smith is being dined and funded by the extremely wealthy trying to get out of paying their fair share of taxes at a time when Oregon's schools are grossly underfunded -- at least in part because of the No Child Left Behind law, which he voted for -- and the federal deficit continues to shoot up is a perfect illustration of why Smith must be defeated in the Democratic-leaning state of Oregon.

Sure, Smith might compile a "moderate" voting record, defecting on an issue here or an issue there, but more often than not, Smith either takes the side of wealthy interests over those of his constituents or he caves to the conservative Republican leadership rather than stand up for what he purports to believe in. Smith's 2008 reelection campaign is already fairly well funded two and a half years out, but that should not stop Democrats both inside and outside of Oregon from thinking of ways to take Smith down. If the Democrats truly want institutional change in Congress, they need to win back seats like this, so the time to begin planning for a way to win back this seat, which has been held by a moderate Republican and a "moderate" Republican for nearly forty years, is now.

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