Why Election Day won’t hold the answer to who will control the Senate for the next two years

October 28, 2014

Republican U.S. Senator Roberts campaigns at a conservative rally in Gardner

Scoping out the Senate Majority:

It seems likely that which party controls the U.S. Senate for the next two years will not be decided on Election Day.

I’m not only thinking about the possibility that two close races — in Louisiana and Georgia — could end up requiring runoffs. If candidates do not get more than 50 percent of the vote because fringe opponents siphon off votes from the pair running neck and neck, Louisiana’s runoff would be in December and Georgia’s not until Jan. 6, 2015.

Former President Bill Clinton waves to voters next to Senator Mary Landrieu during an early voting rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The uncertainty that’s more intriguing is that even after those runoffs, if they happen, there might be three independent senators who could swing the majority to one party or the other.

One, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, is a staunch liberal who will certainly cast his lot with the Democrats, as he has in the past. But Maine independent Angus King has not said for sure that he will continue to caucus with Democrats. And Kansas’s Greg Orman, an independent businessman who is locked in a tight race with incumbent Republican Pat Roberts, has steadfastly refused to say which party he would vote with.

Another longer-shot wild card is former Senator Larry Pressler of South Dakota. He is also running has an independent, but his rise in the polls has subsided recently.

One can only imagine what Orman and King will be promised by both sides if one or both become swing votes. Beyond that, there is a Democratic senator in a red state (John Tester in Montana) and even one or two moderate Republicans in a blue state and a swing state (Mark Kirk in Illinois and Susan Collins in Maine) who might be persuaded to flip.

Still more intriguing is the fact that anyone could flip at any time, or even flip back. Their all-important vote to caucus with one party or the other can also change at any time. Vermont’s late Senator Jim Jeffords proved this when he left the Republican Party in May 2001. He declared himself an independent who was going to caucus with the Democrats, and instantly caused upheaval in Washington by turning control of the Senate over to the Democrats.

As longtime moderate Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania demonstrated when he jumped the aisle in 2009, moderate senators in both parties are finding themselves endangered in primaries or being tagged in general elections by the baggage of having their party affiliation identified with positions less moderate than theirs. So the prospect that some senators can live comfortably on either side of the aisle is becoming increasingly untenable.

Which means that as Election Day approaches, one or more of our best political reporters ought to try to map out the scenarios for what could become hand-to-hand combat for a Senate majority even after the polls close.

Where did the rifle used in Ottawa come from?

I keep expecting to see stories explaining how alleged Ottawa terrorist Michael Zehaf-Bibeau managed to get what the New York Times reported is a “Winchester rifle, a firearm his criminal conviction had prohibited him from owning.”

Armed RCMP officers race across a street on Parliament Hilll following a shooting incident in Ottawa

Canada, unlike the United States, has strict laws requiring all gun owners to be licensed following a rigorous background check — that presumably would have blocked Zehaf-Bibeau because of his criminal record and history of drug abuse.

This Vox story provides a good summary of the Canadian gun-control regime compared to the lack of controls in the United States. But so far there has been nothing on why the Canadian law didn’t work in this case.

In Mexico there is a vibrant black market in all kinds of firearms that are brought into the country from the United States.

The United States supplies guns to countries south of the border much the way those countries supply drugs to America.  Is that how Zehaf-Bibeau got the weapon that terrorized downtown Ottawa?

Who’s Lisa Monaco?

In the aftermath of the killing in Ottawa, I noticed that White House Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco did some television interviews outlining the Obama administration’s reaction to the apparent lone-wolf attack.

A former federal prosecutor who ran the Justice Department’s National Security Division before moving to the White House, Monaco has had little written about her, except for this brief National Journal profile in April 2013, following the Boston Marathon bombing.

Monaco has also been in the news lately because administration officials explained that one reason for appointing Ron Klain as the “Ebola czar” was that Monaco had so many other issues on her plate related to Islamic State and other security matters that she couldn’t devote full time to dealing with the effort to contain the virus.

It’s time to find out more about Monaco and what her role coordinating homeland-security issues entails. She seems to be the White House liaison to a wide range of turf-conscious agencies that have roles in issues that run the gamut from airport security to disease control to cyber attacks.


PHOTO (TOP): From left: Senator Angus King (I-Me.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Greg Orman. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts; Jim Gourg; Orman Handout

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Former President Bill Clinton waves to voters next to Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) during an early voting rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, October 20, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

PHOTO (INSERT 2): Armed Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers race across a street on Parliament Hill, following a shooting incident in Ottawa, October 22, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

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