The Republican spin-machine has been operating in overdrive his week. If you listen to GOP Chairman Michael Steele, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other leading conservative voices, 2010's midterm election is shaping up to be a veritable bloodbath for the nascent Democratic majorities in both the U.S. House of Representatives, where Dems hold a 256-178 lead, and in the Senate, where the left currently holds its first 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in decades. And the reason for the right's euphoria? A slew of critical resignations by Democratic incumbents, including those announced this week from Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, and North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan. But what these Republican propagandists won't tell you is that in the Republican vs. Democrat retirement-score in the House and Senate, their party leads 14-11 and 6-4 respectively. There are also more Republican governors choosing not to seek re-election, and in the pivotal state of Florida, party chairman Jim Greer announced he's leaving amid a hotly contested Senate primary involving Gov. Charlie Christ and Marco Rubio. But the right's chest-beating continues unabated despite the party's mounting problems.
"The successes in Virginia and New Jersey combined with the last month of Democrat withdrawals, retirements, and switches, show that the Republican Party is solidly gaining momentum and is going strong into 2010," Steele's been crowing all week. "Whether these Democrats want to admit it or not, President Obama's government-run liberal agenda and their foolish decision to wholeheartedly embrace it has increased Republicans chances of regaining the majority..."
But Steele and his pied-propagandists are privately more likely concerned about the GOP's vulnerability in several key states where its incumbents are retiring: Florida's George LeMieux, Missouri's Kit Bond, Ohio's George Voinovich, New Hampshire's Judd Gregg, and Kentucky's Jim Bunning. The problems don't end there. Over in North Carolina, polls show that first-term Sen. Richard Burr is running below 50% against unknown Democratic opponents. That state has increasingly shifted to the left, with Democrats picking up two House seats, Kay Hagen's '08 landslide defeat of GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole, and President Obama's electoral vote victory.
And while right-wingers like to point out the growing rift between liberals and blue-dog Democrats, there's an even bigger schism within the Republican Party between the hardcore "tea party" conservatives and the more moderate wing. This civil war threatens to undermine the GOP's real hopes for regaining power later this year, as evidenced by last November's special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District where tea-baggers and party leaders forced out moderate Dede Scozzafava in favor of hardliner Doug Hoffman, who lost to Democrat Bill Owens, giving the left its first victory in this solidly Republican district in over 100 years. As a matter of fact, in practically every special election last year Democrats were victorious. That should be of more concern to Steele & Company than who's retiring on the left. (Note: Dodd's retirement is actually a big plus for the party, as longstanding and very popular Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal should be able to retain the seat being vacated by the embattled and controversial five-term Senator).
The truth is, politicians on both sides of the aisle appear to be fed up with the ever-increasingly contentious, highly partisan climate in Washington. That they're throwing in the towel and looking forward to calmer pastures is of no surprise. And maybe all this excitement about retiring politicians could stoke serious discussion of term-limits. Perhaps it's not such a bad thing that worn out old codgers like Dodd, Dorgan and Voinovich move aside to allow some fresh blood to flow through the Beltway.