Senate Democrats are in trouble for a lot of reasons. The leader of their party is upside down in the polls, Obamacare is unpopular, and they’ve overseen a disastrously slow economic recovery. But one of the least talked about, yet most important, factors is just how bad the playing field looks for Democrats. Bill Clark writes for FiveThirtyEight:
The Senate playing field remains fairly broad. There are 10 races where we give each party at least a 20 percent chance of winning,so there is a fairly wide range of possible outcomes. But all but two of those highly competitive races (the two exceptions are Georgia and Kentucky) are in states that are currently held by Democrats. Furthermore, there are three states — South Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana — where Democratic incumbents are retiring, and where Republicans have better than an 80 percent chance of making a pickup, in our view.
In other words, of the top 10 most competitive races in 2014, eight of them are for seats currently occupied by Democrats (not to mention the three retiring Democrats where Republicans are a shoo in). That leaves Democrats playing a lot of defense.
Political defense can take a lot of forms—most of which are expensive. Things like television commercials, radio ads, campaign mailers, phone banks, precinct walks, etc. But incumbency typically comes with its own set of defensive measures, which have the benefit of being free. One of the most important is the bully pulpit
The pulpit of office allows them the opportunity to introduce, talk, and vote on legislation that would be popular in their district. For instance, allowing a vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline is important to at-risk Democrats like Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has apparently made the decision that it is more important to prevent votes on Republican ideas than it is to allow his own members the opportunity to offer amendments. Manu Raju and Burgess Everett report on the growing tension this is causing within the Democratic ranks:
Harry Reid has a new dilemma on his hands: restless Senate Democrats who are frustrated they aren’t casting enough votes.
For the past year, Reid and Republicans have bitterly sparred over the stunning inactivity in the Senate. But the majority leader is now facing growing pressure from fellow Democrats agitating over the lack of votes on amendments, a central aspect of legislating in the Senate.
. . .
Since joining the Senate in January 2013, the 12 freshmen Democrats have not had a single vote on the floor on any amendment bearing any of their names as the lead sponsor. Although some freshmen have succeeded in proposing amendments during committee consideration or won changes as part of a package drafted by the managers of a particular bill, winning a vote during floor debate is a rarity these days.
Even Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Chris Coons (D-Del), who were elected way back in 2010, have failed to receive a vote on any of the amendments they’ve offered. That’s four years without a single vote! The frustration is beginning to boil over.
“I’ve never been in a less productive time in my life than I am right now, in the United States Senate,” Sen. Joe Manchin told The Hill newspaper.
Harry Reid would no doubt claim that he’s only doing his best to protect vulnerable Democrats from having to take tough votes on Republican amendments. But some Members don’t buy into such cynicism. If you can’t take the heat, they say, then get out of the kitchen.
“At the end of the day, you are not going to say you’re not going to vote for things because you’re afraid of how that vote will look,” Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D) told POLITICO. “The vote will look bad if you don’t take the vote, so why not take the vote so people know where you stand.”
Despite their very real complaints it’s difficult to muster up much sympathy for these at-risk Democrats. After all, they were the ones ultimately responsible for voting to make Harry Reid their Majority Leader. As Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee says, “They should all be forced to wear, ‘Blame Me I Vote for Reid’ stickers at campaign events.” But seeing as how that’s unlikely to come to pass, the best option for voters is to simply vote them into the minority. Ironically, that may be the only way for them to get more votes.