Barbara Mikulski and the Democratic margin of error.

Jim Geraghty dumped a bit of cold water on this not-yet-officially-refuted rumor that Senator Mikulski is planning to retire:

…the least she’s ever gotten in a Senate race is 60 percent. Evan Bayh faced a tough reelection bid, but Mikulski’s biggest-name opponent so far, is Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Eric Wargot. She’s raised $3 million, he’s raised $176,526. Even in a terrible year for Democrats, she should be safe.

If Mikulski is contemplating retirement, it’s not because she fears she’ll lose in 2010.

…which is true enough: if Mikulski is retiring (we should probably get that confirmed today), it won’t be because of the current political environment.

But from now on, reasons for Democratic drop-outs no longer matter.  Particularly in the Senate.

As of this moment, the conventional wisdom has conceded that the GOP is going to have a good run in November. The blue-sky goal is slowly moving from ‘retaking the House’ to ‘getting fifty or more seats;’ and people are beginning to suggest a hint about the possibility of maybe being in a position to flip the Senate.  As it stands, +8R seats is… justifiable.  It will require the GOP to keep all of its in-play Senate seats (which is actually looking likely, at this point) and the Democrats to lose all of theirs (less likely, but not actually impossible).  To hit the magic +10R number, the GOP would have to knock off two out of three remaining races: Gillibrand in NY, Boxer in CA, and the open seat in CT. Getting one of those three will be an accomplishment; getting two would be tricky.

But that obscures the real problem for the Democrats, which is that they cannot have any more bad luck if they want to be assured of keeping their Senate majority.  If Mikulski retires, of course the GOP will press hard for her Senate seat.  The Democrats will have defend it, which means resources that they’d rather spend elsewhere.  Senator Frank Lautenberg is in the hospital right now after a fall.  I hope he’s fine, I wish him a speedy recovery, and I expect that he’ll be back to work next week; but if he had broken his neck instead the Democrats would be facing the fact that the manner of his replacement would be under the control of a Republican governor.  Senator Chuck Schumer of NY is one scandal away from having his poll numbers go south in a tearing hurry.  And so on, and so on.

My point here is that the ‘why’ of any particular political setback for the Democrats is now no longer as important as the setback itself.  We are almost at the point where everything has to go right for them, from now until November, for them to preserve their Senate majority.  Meanwhile, the GOP is already poised to gain enough seats to allow a margin on cloture votes; and while we may want +11R, if we have to we’ll soldier through and somehow make do with +6R.  Put another way: we’re already hit our primary objective.  Now we’re just seeing how far we can make the rubble bounce.

Odd how things can change in a year, yes?

Moe Lane

Crossposted to Moe Lane.