What Jim Webb Just Did to Harry Reid

Yesterday, the prickly but impressive junior senator from Virginia, author and former Marine Jim Webb, a Democrat, announced that he won’t be running for a second term.  If you’d like a judicious, warm-hearted appreciation of Webb, scroll down to Troy Senik’s fine post.  What I have to offer is a crass calculation.

A man of conservative temperament who has spent five years now keeping his name before Virginia voters, Webb represented the strongest candidate the Democrats could possibly have fielded.  Even at that Webb would probably have faced a difficult re-election campaign.  Former Virginia senator and governor George Allen has already announced that he intends to campaign for the Republican nomination.  Webb beat Allen five years ago, but narrowly, after Allen ran a lazy, sloppy campaign, a mistake Allen won’t repeat.  And with Barack Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket, Webb would have found himself constantly apologizing for the president.

Anything can happen in two years, of course.  But as of Webb’s announcement yesterday, the tumblers of political calculus have turned.  The strong presumption must now be that Webb’s seat will flip from the Democrats to the GOP.  Which will make two.  Several weeks ago, as you’ll recall, Sen. Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat, announced that this term would be his last.  Since North Dakota just elected Republican John Hoeven to the Senate with 76 percent of the vote–yes, 76 percent–it seems likely–overwhelmingly likely–that Conrad’s seat will also flip to the GOP.

The GOP has forty-seven seats today, plus, in 2012, Conrad’s seat–and Webb’s seat.  And while the GOP must defend 10 seats in 2012, the Democrats must defend 21 (that includes the seats held by Independents Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, both of whom caucus with the Democrats).

Harry Reid must be feeling like Napoleon during the retreat from Moscow.

UPDATE:  As Dave Moilinari just noted on the conversational thread, Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona–and, to my mind, one of the finest, best-hearted, and hardest-working members of the Senate–has announced that he, too, will retire at the end of this term.  Arizona is a red state, so Kyl’s seat will likely remain with the GOP.  But only “likely.”  Every so often a Democrat does well in Arizona.  Sec. of Transportation Janet Napolitano–or, as Mark Steyn calls her, Janet Incompetano–is the former Democratic governor of the state.  Two steps forward for the GOP with the retirements of Webb and Conrad, and, perhaps, with the retirement this afternoon of Jon Kyl, half a step back.

  1. Chris Johnson

     Sooo, with just 11 more pickups, we will hand extrordinary influence to the Maine twins!

  2. Underground Conservative

    Unfortunately, Jon Kyl just leveled the playing field a bit.

  3. Peter Robinson
    C

    Thanks for pointing that out, Dave.  But darn.

    Have updated my original post.

  4. kiwikit

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if he announced NOW that he’s a now a Republican and will caucus with them?

  5. Mike LaRoche

    Also, Sen. John Tester (D-Montana) is running for re-election in a state that took a sharp Republican turn this year.  Tester was elected to his first term in 2006, narrowly beating incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns largely because of Burns’ ties to Jack Abramoff.

  6. AmishDude

    Remember that 2006 was the first year of Rahm’s strategy of running conservative-sounding Dems, particularly those with military records.

    There are a lot of Jim Webb types running in 2006.

    I’m not worried about Arizona.  Napolitano was elected before the spectacle of the feds suing AZ.  Jeff Flake is probably the most well-known Arizona political figure outside of Gabby Giffords and even if the Dems convince her to run, I don’t think she’ll credibly win. 

    The only GOP Senate seat that is really in jeopardy is Scott Brown’s.

  7. Peter Robinson
    C

    For an Amish dude, AmishDude, you sure know a lot about Arizona.  Your analysis–that Jeff Flake is the man to beat–sounds right.

    As does your suggestion that of the 10 seats the GOP must defend next year, the only one in real danger is Brown’s.  In danger on the other side?  Lots.  Webb’s seat in Virginia, Conrad’s in North Dakota, and, as Mike LaRoche points out, Tester’s in Montana.  And that’s just for starters.

  8. Kenneth
    Mike LaRoche: Also, Sen. John Tester (D-Montana) is running for re-election in a state that took a sharp Republican turn this year.  Tester was elected to his first term in 2006, narrowly beating incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns largely because of Burns’ ties to Jack Abramoff. · Feb 10 at 3:25pm

    Tester beat Burns by a margin of 3,562 votes.  He would have lost had it not been for the 10,377 votes that went to an, ahem, third party.

    That’s what happens when Republicans don’t pay attention to Libertarians.

  9. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    We ought to relax. The Republicans will take the Senate. How not? — Given that the Dems have doubled down by re-electing Pelosi and Reid after a loss the likes they have not seen since the 1920s. The only real question is whether the Republicans will find a serious candidate to run against Obama. Their instinct is to nominate the living dead — that would be Dole, McCain, and, say, Romney, Gingrich, Huckabee, or Giuliani.

  10. JKT_MA

    Peter,

    I think Mark’s beloved Janet Incompetano, aka ‘Big Sis’, is Secretary of Homeland Security.  

  11. AmishDude
    Kenneth

    Mike LaRoche: Also, Sen. John Tester (D-Montana) is running for re-election in a state that took a sharp Republican turn this year.  Tester was elected to his first term in 2006, narrowly beating incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns largely because of Burns’ ties to Jack Abramoff. · Feb 10 at 3:25pm

    Tester beat Burns by a margin of 3,562 votes.  He would have lost had it not been for the 10,377 votes that went to an, ahem, third party.

    That’s what happens when Republicans don’t pay attention to Libertarians. · Feb 10 at 4:14pm

    Or when Libertarians cut off their nose to spite their face.

  12. Kenneth
    AmishDude

    Or when Libertarians cut off their nose to spite their face. · Feb 10 at 7:24pm

    Study up on the history of 3rd parties in this country.  The positive political utility of a 3rd party vote is to call the attention of one of the two dominant parties to issues that the 3rd-party voters believe have been unwisely neglected.  By causing a dominant party to lose elections on the margin, the 3rd-party vote forces a change in policy. 

    Republicans haven’t been very good at paying attention, however.  Libertarians cost them not only the Montana seat, but Senate seats in Oregon and Missouri, as well.  It took the Tea Party to get the GOP’s attention; and the Tea Party is heavily libertarian.

    The Democrats were more astute.  The 2000 Green Party vote in Florida cost the Democrats the presidency.  You may have noticed how much more influential environmentalists have become within the Democratic Party since then.

    By the way, the Republican Party started as a 3rd party, uniting disaffected Whigs and Free Soilers who were unhappy with the dominant Whigs’ insufficient stance against the spread of slavery. 

  13. Peter Robinson
    C
    JKT_MA: Peter,

    I think Mark’s beloved Janet Incompetano, aka ‘Big Sis’, is Secretary of Homeland Security.   · Feb 10 at 5:15pm

    Silly me.  Of course she is.

  14. Al Kennedy

     I’m curious what policy changes occurred for the voters in Montana, Missouri, and Oregon with the election of Jon Tester, Claire McCaskill, and Jeff Merkley.  Also, weren’t environmentalists voting heavily Democrat prior to 2000, and didn’t Al Gore propose a strong environmental program during his presidential run?  What didn’t the Green Party like about his candidacy?

  15. TucsonSean

    We ought to keep Kyl’s seat.  He is well regarded and there are no statewide dems who are particularly impressive.  Giffords will not be remotely recovered enough, and sympathy only goes so far.  She’ll get re-elected for her house seat if she’s able only because no one will run against her.

    Napolitano is and looks feckless.   

  16. AmishDude
    Peter Robinson: For an Amish dude, AmishDude, you sure know a lot about Arizona.  Your analysis–that Jeff Flake is the man to beat–sounds right.

    As does your suggestion that of the 10 seats the GOP must defend next year, the only one in real danger is Brown’s.  In danger on the other side?  Lots.  Webb’s seat in Virginia, Conrad’s in North Dakota, and, as Mike LaRoche points out, Tester’s in Montana.  And that’s just for starters. · Feb 10 at 4:06pm

    From Geraghty:

    The Arizona Republic: “Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., will announce Monday that he will run for the U.S. Senate being vacated by Sen. Jon Kyl, a source has told The Arizona Republic.

    What can I say?