50-50 Senate balance on Nov. 3 could make for interesting party switch pitches

Three weeks out as I write this, The Real Clear Politics “Senate No Toss Ups” map shows a 50-50 Senate after the votes are counted next month. It suggests the potential for intrigue and high jinks even after the polls close (not including the danger our nation faces until January 3, 2011 from the Obama Democrats’ lame duck session).

A 50-50 Senate recalls the 2001 Senate power-sharing that held until Jim Jeffords switched parties and handed the Senate to the Democrats. (Interestingly, neither of the architects of that short-lived sharing are still Senators…recall the names Daschle and Lott?)

With a socialist Democrat in the White House and a conservative GOP likely in the House of Representatives, control of the Senate would appear to be less important this time around. Most Senate legislation also requires 60 votes to move, anyway. Don’t believe it.

As we have recently seen, a lot of bad things can get through the Senate with 51 votes, and on judicial nominees alone, great and lasting damage can be done to our country through the confirmation of judges and Justices with life tenure.

In addition, incredibly important, yet tricky communications and tactical issues await the Congress as conservatives attempt to effectively repeal ObamaCare through defunding it, among other legislative efforts to block the budget-busting government takeover of our health care.

So control of the Senate will matter, in the words of a great American former Senate tie-breaker, “big time.”

So what would happen? A look at the list of 2012 Senate races gives us an idea. (As an aside, this list also shows the Democrats face trouble in 2012 just from the mix of incumbents they must defend and the lack of tough seats for the GOP to defend, but that is a topic for another day.)

The GOP has some potential targets to secure their 51st vote. Obviously, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, he of the Cornhusker Kickback, will face an onslaught of attention as a possible party switcher. But in light of Sen. Arlen Specter’s demise after switching parties, he may decide he has a better chance in November 2012 than in a GOP primary.

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut would be the other focus of much attention, but he has one of the trickiest situations in terms of his survival in 2012. His best bet for re-election might be to continue to caucus with the Democrats, vote sometimes with the GOP, and get to November 2012 as an independent and triangulate again. But with a revitalized Connecticut GOP after this cycle, he may pull fewer GOP votes in two years. (He could lose and still end up as, perhaps, Secretary of State in a GOP Administration.)

The other Democrat Senators in trouble in 2012 have no clear route to enter the GOP anyway. Jim Webb will be in a world of hurt in 2012 unless the mood shifts in Virginia over the next two years, but he could not become a Republican. There are a few others…does Democrat Sen. Jon Tester really have Montana locked up? But the power of the Tea Parties and the greatly decreased ability of “party leaders” to clear the field for a chosen nominee make it less likely that party switching will make sense for Democrat Senators in the near future.

Of course, the Democrats will also be looking for a GOP switch to secure the 51st vote. They, too, have a few options. Olympia Snowe of Maine is perhaps most likely of anyone in either party to switch. But if she feels Obama is truly doomed in 2012, why cast your lot with a rapidly-shrinking party? The GOP is no longer dead in the northeast anyway (the GOP candidate, Paul LePage, is currently leading, though narrowly, a three-way race in Snowe’s Maine, for example).

Scott Brown? Kills his entire reform identity. And the Obama Democrats are far too left for him. Not gonna happen.

That leaves just one more (and no, stop with your Sen. Dick Lugar jokes). If a hellish miracle occurs and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were to win her write-in campaign, she would be wooed heavily by the Democrats to join them officially. (The only other plausible name would be Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, up in 2014, on a theory that you actually have a better chance of surviving a primary in your new party if you have more time to reinvent yourself. But I don’t see her joining a party in decline. Besides, if you can survive 2008 as a Republican, you can survive anything. Plus, like Justice Anthony Kennedy, I think she has learned there are joys in being a swing vote.)

The bottom line is a Jeffords-like party switch is less likely now, thanks in part to Sen. Specter’s failure (and Gov. Charlie Crist’s coming failure in Florida), which failures reflect the continued decline of party bosses and the rise of insurgent candidates closer to the people.

But that also means that 50 GOP Senators is not good enough this year. Yet another reminder in these closing days to stop eating out, in fact to eliminate all discretionary spending, and to send money to as many candidates and independent expenditure organizations as you can. The House and Senate are both poised to flip to the GOP. Your money sacrificed now can secure the Congress and increase the numbers of new conservatives in Washington next year, to block ObamaCare, left-wing judges, bailouts, Cap and Tax and amnesty, and to reduce spending and get our economy moving again. And yes, to get those subpoenas over to the White House.