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Posted: 12/24/2003 6:33:31 PM EDT
December 23, 2003

by Dick Morris


LOST among the focus on the Democratic presidential race is the likelihood of a huge Republican gain in the U.S. Senate in the 2004 elections. Even without a landslide victory for Bush (quite possible if Howard Dean wins the Democratic nod), the way races are shaping up, the Republicans have a lot to gloat about.
So far, seven senators have announced their retirement - five Democrats (Florida's Bob Graham, Georgia's Zell Miller, South Carolina's Fritz Hollings, North Carolina's John Edwards and Louisiana's John Breaux) and two Republicans (Oklahoma's Don Nickles and Illinois' Peter Fitzgerald). With six of the seven seats in Southern or border states, all of which Bush carried in 2000, the GOP advantage is obvious.

And a closer look makes that edge even stronger. Two seats lean heavily to the GOP. In Georgia, where Republicans took over the governorship and one of the Senate seats, the GOP is fielding a very strong candidate, Johnnie Isakson, who has run very strongly in the past, while the Democrats are able to put up only an underfunded state senator, Mary Squires. South Carolina, probably the most conservative state in the nation, is likely also a Republican lock with several strong GOP candidates including Rep. Jim DeMint and former Attorney General Charlie Condon.

To offset these two Republican gains, Democrats are likely to keep the seat being vacated by North Carolina's John Edwards in his quixotic quest for the presidential nomination. Erskine Bowles, Clinton's former chief of staff, narrowly lost to Elizabeth Dole in 2002 and will likely win this seat.

In Florida, a GOP heavyweight, HUD Secretary and former Gov. Mel Martinez is probably going to run, having just left Bush's Cabinet to prepare for a race. The Democratic candidates, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and Congressman Peter Deutsch, are both strong contenders, but Martinez is clearly the class of the field.

So, if you are keeping score, that's three Republican gains - in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia.

Oklahoma and Louisiana are tossups, with one Democratic and one Republican seat at risk. In Louisiana, GOP Rep. David Vitter is likely to face either Democratic Rep. Chris John, Attorney General Richard Ieyoub or state Treasurer John Kennedy. In Oklahoma, Republicans have settled on Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, while Democrats will choose among Rep. Brad Carson, Attorney General Drew Edmondson or Treasurer Robert Butkin. It's too early to tell how these races are likely to shape up.

The Illinois race is crowded with 20 candidates and also has to be rated as too early to call.

The most likely result would be a Republican gain of three or four, knocking the Democrats down to only 44 or 45 seats, barely enough to sustain a filibuster. If Bush wipes out Dean in a landslide, the Democrats could fall even lower, although it seems unlikely that they would drop below the magic number of 40 needed to oppose closure on Democratic filibusters.

Republicans will keep control of the House easily; the reapportionment of 2002 assures GOP control for the rest of the decade. In a series of state deals, Republicans and Democrats both agreed to put Democratic voters into districts now represented by Democrats. The Republicans liked the idea because it gave them permanent control of the House. Democrats loved it because it assured them of lifetime tenure in the lower house. (The only reason the Senate is so competitive is that the politicians can't gerrymander state lines!)

So, 2004 is shaping up as a nice year for Republicans all around.
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