Published in The Moderate Voice on October 23, 2016
With Election Day just two weeks away, a number of developments are taking place in contests that will decide the balance of power in both houses of Congress next year.
For the Senate races, a little noticed but potentially meaningful development/gaffe came when Arizona Senator John McCain told a radio audience that Senate Republicans “will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.” McCain immediately took heat for these comments which he partly walked back hours later, instead clarifying that he meant a Senate has the responsibility of providing checks and balances.
McCain has been in hot water with Trumpers, who were never enamored with him to begin with, for backing away from supporting the nominee following the release of the audiotape so it’s conceivable that he might have been trying to win some back. But the fact that he tried to reverse himself so quickly after making the remarks indicates he is worried about alienating swing voters. It may. But it may also help with conservatives.
Either way, McCain has enough of a lead with early voting ongoing so that it probably won’t be enough to cost him his seat. But with Clinton making a play for Arizona – and polls showing that she is in a good position to seize the state’s 11 electoral votes, Kirkpatrick does have an outside chance if only she could dent the incumbent’s support among Latino voters.
One person who might suffer inadvertently from McCain’s statement is Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey. In his remarks, McCain called the freshman Republican Senator a willing ally on future Supreme Court fights, adding, “This is where we need the majority, and Pat Toomey is probably as articulate and effective on the floor of the Senate as anyone I have encountered.” The problem for Toomey is that where Arizona is a marginal state, Pennsylvania is pretty firmly in Clinton’s corner and Toomey lacks the years of goodwill of his senior colleague from Arizona.
Even without McCain, Toomey faced his own Trump related predicament which he did little to escape in his recent debate with challenger Katie McGinty. Toomey was pressed hard by McGinty and the moderators and he wouldn’t budge, except to say that “at some point I probably will” reveal who he’d be voting for. He added, “I have not reached a point where I can endorse Donald Trump, because I have so many concerns about his candidacy.” McGinty shot back that Toomey is “not waiting to be persuaded, he’s waiting for the next poll.” Democrats have gone further, calling him “Fraidy-Pat” Toomey.
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Not everything is coming up roses for Democrats. In Indiana, Evan Bayh has struggled with residency questions and his lobbying connections since his surprise entrance into the Senate race in July for the seat he held for twelve years prior to 2010. But despite a GOP onslaught that has questioned Bayh’s fidelity to his home-state, assisted by ammunition from the candidate himself, Bayh has managed to cling to a stubborn lead over his Republican opponent, Congressman Todd Young. Now comes a report that Bayh didn’t spend a single night in his condo – that he has instead stayed in hotels.
This kind of publicity just weeks out is dreadful and it would likely finish anyone else. Indeed, some point to Dick Lugar’s lopsided primary loss in 2012 but, that was more an ideological affair. A better comparison is likely Dan Coats returning to the seat he held through 1998 (interestingly, he gave up the seat to Bayh and is now poised to do so again). He considered North Carolina his home after his retirement but was able to take advantage of a strong Republican year and reclaim his seat. Bayh may do the same but election night may be long. And Bayh, a former Governor, must be grateful for his legendary name in Hoosier circles.
Turning to House seats, chutzpah and politicians typically go hand in hand but Darrell Issa’s latest campaign mailer is a case of “chutzpah’s chutzpah.” For the entire Obama presidency, California Republican Darrell Issa has been among his party’s fiercest and most indefatigable critics. He has held the administration’s fuel to the fire by virtue of hearings, subpoenas and investigations as chair of the House Government Oversight Committee.
For years, California’s 49th district was Republican enough that Issa never had to sweat re-election. Now, however, he finds himself in a close battle in a district that is trending toward the Democrats so who does he turn to for assistance? Why Obama.
In a glossy campaign mailing, Issa wrote, “I am very pleased that President Obama has signed into law the Survivors Bill of Rights – legislation I co-sponsored to protect the victims of sexual assault.” The mailer features Obama at his desk putting his pen-to-paper, presumably to sign the legislation into law.
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<strong>Darrell Issa, one of President Obama’s most indefatigable critics, is now featuring his photo in his campaign literature
Image via the daily kos.com</strong>
A couple of issues. It is far from uncommon for politicians to boast of an ability to work across the aisle. Nor is it a tangible sin to put a person of the other party in your literature that you openly despise. But it is a political sin that has a limited success of working. Nebraska’s Lee Terry for one put up Obama-Terry signs in 2008 which turned out to be a shrewd strategy (both men narrowly won that district). But Issa is so infamous for his disdain of the President that it’s had to see many falling for the shtick.
<strong>Other House Race Snippets </strong>
A House seat that began as an opportunity for Democrats now seems to have dissipated as multiple polls show Republican Congressman John Katko ahead of ex-Kirsten Gillibrand staffer Colleen Deacon by double digits. The lead is remarkable because Katko is a freshman who hails from a Syracuse anchored district Clinton will carry by double digits. The news is welcome for Republicans because it appears to be a one-step forward, two step back, as many incumbents once viewed as safe bets to return to Washington now find themselves on very shaky ground.
In Michigan, Republicans are now gravely concerned about freshman Mike Bishop and David Trott. In Florida, Democrats struggled almost up until the filing deadline to find a credible challenger to twelve-term incumbent John Mica. Now, Stephanie Murphy is in a tossup race against the incumbent. And in California, Congressman Jeff Denham finds himself tied – if not slightly behind, a challenger Democrats were dismissive of as recently as the summer.
Additionally, Republican hopes of dislodging a handful of Democratic incumbents has fizzled as well as the odds of once truly embattled Ami Bera and Rick Nolan appear to be withering as both parties now concede that the two are posed to return for another term.
It may be that the only Democratic House seats the GOP might manage to only snag this cycle are both in Florida. The Second district underwent a mid-decade redraw so that it is not even plausible for a Democrat to hold (so much so that freshman Gwen Graham retired) and Patrick Murphy’s seat in the 18th district now seems leaning toward electing a Republican, Brian Mast. But even the latter is by no means a certainty in a year like this. Indeed, any certainty this year would be an exception rather than the rule.