With eight days to go before Election Day, both sides are worried.
Republicans, while still holding out hope for a "McCain Miracle," are increasingly worried that McCain is losing in a way that, as David Frum put it, "threatens to take the entire Republican Party down with him." As a result, Frum and other Republicans are urging party officials to shift the emphasis off the presidential race and on to preserving as many Senate seats as possible.
Democrats, while being careful not to count their electoral chickens before they're hatched, are privately worried about winning without enough of a majority in the Senate to really change things.
The enduring theme of Obama's campaign has been fundamental change. But, with victory within sight, the question becomes: how much change can he deliver if Democrats don't reach a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate?
If the recent past is prologue, the answer is: not nearly enough.
In the just-ended 110th Congress, obstructionist Senate Republicans, led by human roadblock Mitch McConnell, mounted a record 104 filibusters (and that was with Bush in the White House; imagine how much more intransigent they would be with Obama). To put that number in context, in the previous Congress, the 109th, in which Democrats were in the minority, there were just 54 filibusters.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called the GOP tactic "obstruction on steroids." McConnell countered by deeming the filibuster flood an "ordinary procedure." And he makes it clear it's going to become even more "ordinary" if he's allowed to wield it in the 111th Congress: "I think the Senate works best when it makes things happen in the middle and that happens when you have 41 or more people who resist an idea to the point where you can compromise." In other words, to the point where you can derail, shut down, and gridlock real change.
The specter of Democrats controlling both the executive and the legislative branches of government has become a useful late-campaign boogeyman for Republicans. In John McCain's version, voters need to elect him president to balance out a Congress led by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.
Senate Republicans, facing potential losses in New Hampshire, Oregon, Minnesota, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Kentucky and Georgia, are making the pitch as if an Obama White House is a foregone conclusion.
Elizabeth Dole, in a neck and neck fight with challenger Kay Hagan, has a new TV ad warning that if she loses, it will hand Democrats "a blank check."
Norm Coleman, currently running behind Al Franken in Minnesota, ominously told voters: "If I lose this seat and one party has control across the board, then you'll see changes."
Coleman's quote should go right into a Franken commercial, and commercials for every other Democratic Senate candidate. "Want real change? Put Democrats in control."
Republicans aren't the only ones warning about one party rule. On Sunday, the New York Times, falling into be-careful-what-you-wish-for mode, warned that gaining a 60 seat majority would put Democrats "at risk of overreaching."
For the sake of the country, that's a risk Obama and Senate Democrats need to take. As Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse puts it: "I think we are in enough trouble in enough areas, that I would rather own it and then have to perform than continue with this back and forth, back and forth with Republicans, particularly while they are engaged in this absolute determined policy of obstruct, obstruct, obstruct."
Obama, of course, needs to stay focused on winning the White House, taking nothing for granted. And he definitely should not repeat John Kerry's mistake in 2004, when he ended the race with over $14 million sitting in the bank.
The Obama campaign clearly recognizes that while 50 percent of likely voters prefer one party rule, among the independent swing voters they are so avidly courting, only 34 percent do. Which is why the campaign has been treading so carefully.
But here's what he can and should do. Today. He should immediately guarantee a loan to the DSCC that will allow Democratic Senate candidates to spend whatever amount is necessary to secure a 60-seat majority. With Obama's donor list, he'll be able to wipe out that loan with a single post-election email. Money should not be the reason Democrats don't put themselves in a position to defang the obstructionists.
Indeed, a significant chunk of that money should be directed to Kentucky where challenger Bruce Lunsford is running just a few points behind McConnell. Want real change in America? Imagine a Senate without McConnell in it.
This is one of the times when deficit financing is definitely in the public interest. The Obama campaign should spill a little red ink to turn a few more red states blue.
Update: Politico reports today that the Democratic National Committee is, indeed, uncapping the red ink well, "taking out a $10 million dollar line of credit to split equally between the House and Senate campaign committees." Memo to Howard Dean: Make the first check payable to the Defeat Mitch McConnell Fund. And get those Norm Coleman "you'll see changes" TV spots rolling.
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