Two new polls released this week suggest that two more Senate seats have moved considerably in favor of the Democrats. In Alaska, it appears as though the already-too-long career of the poster-boy for earmark reform, Sen. Ted Stevens, is about to come to an end. Other polls have shown this race to be close, but it now appears that Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich has begun to pull ahead. According to a Research 2000 poll, Begich enjoys a five point lead over the incumbent, whose favorable/unfavorable ratings are an abysmal 38/58. When those someone who has been in office for forty years is showing those numbers, the writing is on the wall. Unless Ted Stevens retires or a late viable primary challenger emerges, we will lose this seat. Frankly, if we don’t dump Ted Stevens ourselves, we will deserve to lose it.
The other troubling poll comes from Kentucky, where Senate Minority “Leader” Mitch McConnell finds himself polling under 50% and with mere 10 and 12 point leads over his Democrat rivals to be, Bruce Lunsford and Greg Fischer, respectively. As with other Republicans whose poll numbers are not where they should be, McConnell enjoys a hefty cash on hand advantage that will make it extremely difficult for the Democrat challengers to compete. Both Democrats find their campaigns deep in debt with not much more money in the coffers beyond the amount owed. McConnell’s nearly $8 million in the bank raises the bar for Lunsford and Fischer and sends a signal to the DSCC that it would require a heavy investment in the state to give their candidates a serious shot a winning. These poll numbers, though, spell trouble for McConnell. Democrats would love to unseat him in revenge for the 2004 Republican ousting of then-Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Just how badly they want that revenge remains to be seen.
Perhaps worst of all, though, is that McConnell and his Senate colleagues failed to get the memo that a major reason for Republican losses in 2006 and in recent special elections was fiscal irresponsibility. Silent until the last minute, McConnell gave political cover to those hoping to buy off voters in their home states by voting in favor of the farm bill. Democrats expect their members to vote in favor of legislation that pays people not to do things ($30 billion will go to farmers for not growing food on their land, along with some environmental programs). Republican voters, however, want fiscal responsibility. Independents want a choice, and Republican Senators aren’t offering it to them. Only 13 Republicans, along with two Democrats (thank you Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, who on this one, was probably better than his predecessor) voted against the bloated legislation, and only two of them are facing reelection this year. As much as it pains me to give credit to her, Sen. Susan Collins was one of them. Sen. John Sununu was the other.
Simply put, most of the Republican caucus sold out on the principles of limited government yet again in hopes of buying the votes of their constitutents. This suicidal strategy failed miserably in 2006 and will be even worse in 2008. I won’t say that Republicans voting in favor of the farm bill deserve to lose, but if they do, they can look back on this vote as a failure to regain the high ground on the issue of fiscal responsibility. We had the chance to begin to turn the tables here, and McConnell and company mucked it up again. This terrible missed opportunity could well cost us a seat or two in November. If it does, here’s hoping that Ted Stevens is one of them.