Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Correlation Of Forces In The U.S. Senate Race

Republican prospects nationally appear to be improving. Some polls indicate that Republicans will pick up 30-40 seats in the off year presidential election, which is a little odd because in off year elections convenient presidential targets are not present on the ballot. Current wisdom holds that off year elections are decided on local issues. There are convincing reasons to believe that will not be the case this time, and it is instructive to ask why.

The Republican recovery may be attributed in part to an aggressive push by the White House and unpopular leaders in the congress on behalf of some divisive – and, perhaps more to the point – expensive programs. For the moment, national Democrats appear to be oblivious of the shoals and choppy water just ahead.

Here in Connecticut, Peter Schiff, the Cassandra of the state, is warning that Gibraltar sized problems await us in the near future. The snowballing national debt, Schiff says, is unsustainable. Other Republicans point to the insolvency of programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and even Social Security.

Appearing before a Tea Party crowd in Hartford on April 15, tax day, Schiff said he would need only one term in the senate because if someone does not soon put a tether on the national debt, in six years out we cannot not recover from future massive debt followed by massive inflation.

Schiff’s usual critics are not inclined to write him off as a quack because, like Cassandra, he had predicted in stunning detail the events that have unfolded during the current meltdown. At the time, he was written off by the Brights on Wall Street as a depressing drag on the national economy. Current chatterers adroitly step over the impending financial collapse – the corpse in the room -- and remark that Schiff knows little about winning office. A tea party crowd in Hartford intuitively agreed with the thrust of Schiff’s analysis but, as may be imagined, withheld its hearty applause. Scenarios of impending doom, while stirring, are not likely to cause crowds to erupt into cheers.

Other Republicans in the senate race are Linda McMahon and Rob Simmons. The state nominating convention will choose a candidate on May 21-22 who will face off against likely Democratic candidate Richard Blumenthal, the state’s sainted attorney general. If the nominating convention selects McMahon as its candidate, Simmons may not be able to sustain a primary challenge, while the self-financing McMahon would not have a problem doing so.

Since announcing his availability for the U.S. senate seat soon to be vacated by Chris Dodd, Blumenthal has been wearing two hats. The attorney general has announced he will leave his position whether he wins or loses the senate race, but some people, even now, are questioning whether he can convincingly maintain a political distinction between the two offices for the duration of his campaign. The fear is that he might at some point in his campaign morph into Mr. Hyde when Dr. Jekyll is wanted.

Blumenthal is in the process of staking out an ideological position that would place him to the right of the leftists who seem to have taken over his party. On Afghanistan, he has chosen to throw his lot in with President Barack Obama and the much detested neo-conservatives, thus alienating those war protestors on the left with whom Obama made common cause during his campaign. But that was then, this is now. The opposition to Bush’s war in Iraq on the part of many Washington politicians hotly courting the left was not, it would now appear, a principled position against war, so much as it was a politically utilitarian position against Bush. Grown-ups expect this sort of asymmetric hypocrisy in politics, but there are some on the left, deeply principled, for whom it is still off-putting.

On the economy, while everyone this year is for jobs – even those on the left who have set up a false dichotomy between Main Street and Wall Street that seeks to use skullduggery on Wall Street as a demagogic means to acquire more centralized power in Washington DC. -- Blumenthal’s instincts, honed for twenty years in an office that has benefited from just such assaults on business enterprises in his own state, will pull him in the direction of needless over-regulation.

Blumenthal’s notion that his hyper activity as attorney general – including a recently reported backlog of an astonishing “36,495 cases pending at the end of 2008-09, a 40 percent increase over 1995-96,” as reported in the Waterbury Republican American – actually enhance business activity in Connecticut caused derisive ripples of laughter to wash up on the shores of Media Land in Connecticut and elsewhere. Although by avoiding debates Mr. Hyde has escaped the thrusts and parries of Merrick Alpert, a Democrat running against Blumenthal for Dodd’s seat, some slicing and dicing on the point awaits him after he is selected as candidate for the U.S. Senate following the Democratic state nominating conventions on May 21-22.
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