February 19, 2014 by Thomas Hauber
Ever send a letter to your Senator or Congressman? I don’t mean the email variety entered from a template on his/her website where you can conveniently choose the topic of your query or opinion from the subject list provided. I mean the real thing addressed to their D.C. offices like the Cannon House Office Building (HOG) or the Dirksen Senate Office Building (SOB). Lawmakers prefer email, besides all Capitol mail must be decontaminated first and may take a month to reach them, their websites advise of these delays.
Almost everybody feels email is less effective than a letter, somebody has to actually open and probably read it. More than likely your burning email share or erudite question will be handled by a staffer who simply notes the subject you have selected and sends you a canned position paper explaining what your Congressman has already decided. Many of us feel privileged to receive one of these a few months later even if it completely ignores our specific questions. One thing for sure, you will now be on their official mailing list. I’m starting to receive a lot of political mail lately, most of it unsolicited. This kind usually comes with a return envelope asking for money. It’s that time again.
Normally the thought of another election so soon causes most voters to glaze over. Voter turnouts in mid-term or off-year elections are traditionally lower than in Presidential years reflecting a certain boredom with the whole process and/or a dissatisfaction with government in general. Only a few months ago, due to the government shutdown and general gridlock, the overriding sentiment was to throw everybody out and start over.
This is technically possible in the House as all 435 members are up for re-election but not very likely. All politics is local and there is nothing more locally entrenched than a vast majority of politically gerrymandered Congressional districts. This IS legal, by the way, but that is another subject. In the Senate only one-third of the six-year term Senators stand for re-election at any one time, a reality (along with the fact that Oregon actually has TWO senators) that apparently escapes up to 50% of the State’s voters. “Are we, like, big enough to have two Senators?”
Mid-term elections can go either way traditionally serving as a referendum on the popularity of the sitting President, most often they favor the party not occupying the White House. Now that the government shutdown is off the front page and the debt limit debate shelved for now, Republicans plan to retain control of the House and gain control of the Senate by framing the entire debate on the faulty rollout and ultimate repeal of the Affordable care Act (ACA). Almost all Democrats must eat a measure of Crow over its problems. “Keep your doctor, keep your insurance,” has been replaced by “Let’s all fix it,” or by the Conservative slogan, “Keep your doctor, change your Senator.”
There are 36 Senate seats up for grabs this year including three special vacancy elections. Sitting Democrats are seen as vulnerable as they must defend 21 seats, over half seriously contested. The 15 Republican seats are mostly seen as safely held in solid Red-States.
First-term Democrats swept in with Obama in 2008 are seen as particularly vulnerable: Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jeanne Sheehan (D-NH) and Jeff Merkely (D-OR). Red-state voters are upset for their Senator’s support for the ACA: Mary Landrieu (D-VA) and Mark Pryor (D-AR).
The retirement parade of Senior Democratic Senators goes on: Tim Johnson (D-SD), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Carl Levin (D-MI). Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Max Baucus (D-MT). These retirements open up races for previously-held solid seats. In addition the inevitable loss of seniority affects who runs major committees. A similar retirement took place in 2008 in the Republican Party with the retirement of Senior moderates: Wayne-Allard (R-CO), Pete Domenici (R-NM), John Warner (R-VA) and Chuck Hegel (R-NE). All but Nebraska’s seats went to Democrats. Retirements in both parties can only signal increased partisanship.
Speaking of Chuck Hegel, now Secretary of Defense, whose nomination the Republicans filibustered, I wrote him often as a fellow Veteran applauding his stance against the Neo-Cons adventurous foreign policy. Hegel strongly criticized the Bush Administration’s strategy in Iraq calling it “… the most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam…”. Despite Hegel’s solid Republican voting record on other issues, the party iced him. He declined to run for a third term.
Hegel was/is a man I respect. He sent me a Christmas Card in 2008, an image of a lone farmhouse on the plains of Nebraska. He hand signed it.