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.