A few days ago, a Harvard law professor named William Stuntz argued that if John Thune defeated Tom Daschle, the Republicans might end up regretting it. (Real Clear Politics linked to Stuntz’s piece, but the link is no longer good.)
Stuntz is an outstanding legal scholar, and his efforts at punditry, at least the other ones I’ve seen, are impressive, as well. But he’s way off here. The defeat of Daschle unquestionably is great news for Republicans. With the exception of Bill Clinton, nothing has been more instrumental in curbing Republican power in the past twenty years than the ability of liberal Democrats to be elected to the Senate from red states. Think of it this way. Had the electoral vote been tied this year, and the race thrown into the House of Representatives, 30 of 50 state delegations would have voted for President Bush. This balance of power should translate into 60 Republican Senate seats. Yet the Republicans are ecstatic finally to have gotten the count to 55. Moreover, virtually all Senate Democrats follow the Daschle model no matter how “red” their state is. Thus, there have been nearly ten more liberal votes in the Senate than, given the status of the electorate, one would have expected.
Daschle’s defeat should signal the end of this state of affairs. As Kimberley Strassel points out the WSJ Opinion Journal,
[No one] should underestimate the psychological power Mr. Daschle’s defeat will wield over middle-America Democrats. South Dakota voted Bush by 22 percentage points this week, and Mr. Daschle’s demise came precisely because his opponent effectively explained to voters that it was Mr. Daschle who stymied the same president’s agenda. That’s something to chew on if you are the state’s junior senator, Tim Johnson, or Max Baucus of Montana (59% for Bush), or Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln (54%). One of the only Democratic pickups in the Senate this time came via Ken Salazar, who was smart enough to run as a social centrist in Bush-voting Colorado (against “Coors Lite”).
The pressure builds on those red-state Senators up for election in 2006. Is New Mexico’s Jeff Bingaman going to vote down a Miguel Estrada nomination, with a state home to the largest proportion of Hispanics in the country? Look too for Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Kent Conrad of North Dakota to be heeding the Ghost of Daschle’s Past.
The GOP’s best shot for leveraging this fear of home state voters is to let Democrats know they’ll be ready with strong candidates who’ll run campaigns that highlight any obstructionism, along with the voting record. Then 60 may not seem like such a big number after all.
Amen to that.
UPDATE BY HINDROCKET: This is truly stunning. We got the following email from Professor Stuntz earlier today:
I read your post on Daschle and my column.