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Turning Victory to Defeat? How Obama's Election Helped Put the Senate in Play

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Senate Democrats are in danger of losing their majority on Nov. 2, and two of the reasons go back to Barack Obama's own election as president: Illinois became vulnerable after he vacated the seat to move to the Oval Office, and the same thing happened in Colorado when he appointed the incumbent Democrat, Ken Salazar, to be his Interior Secretary.

It could have been worse. The Delaware seat, long held by Joseph Biden before he became vice president, looked to be in big jeopardy until the GOP primary yielded a wild-card candidate in the person of Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell. New York is not on the list because Republicans could not find a strong candidate to take on Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to the Senate seat when Hillary Rodham Clinton became Secretary of State.

Michael Bennet and Alexi GiannouliasThe Obama team in 2008 and early 2009 just did not foresee the consequences the series of Obama-created Senate vacancies would have on the 2010 midterm elections.

Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate contests as a senior editor at the Cook Political Report, said, "They did not expect Illinois to be competitive." But Illinois Democrats started down what became a very rocky road when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich -- who had the sole power to fill the vacancy -- was arrested on Dec. 9 and charged with trying to sell Obama's seat.

Before Blagojevich was busted, Obama and Illinois Democrats assumed Blagojevich would use his Senate appointment to select someone to fill the vacancy who would have a relatively easy time winning election in November as an incumbent in the heavily Democratic state.

Blagojevich, even after his arrest -- and what turned out to be his impending impeachment -- insisted on replacing Obama on his watch. Most Democrats shunned his overtures, not wanting to take a tainted appointment, but Roland Burris, the former Illinois Attorney General, eagerly accepted Blagojevich's job offer.

When Burris joined the Senate, he anticipated Illinois Democrats clearing the way for him to run in 2010, but that was entirely unrealistic, especially after the controversy he stirred by being less than candid about his lobbying of Blagojevich to get the seat.

Given that Burris was unelectable -- he was way past his political prime and had no fund-raising ability -- Democrats, from the White House on down looked for an alternative. The most electable Illinois Democrat, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, rebuffed overtures from Obama, who was her seatmate when both served in the Illinois state senate.

Once Madigan was out of the picture, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), seen as the Illinois GOP's strongest contender, finally jumped in the race and easily won the Republican primary last February.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Democratic primary produced Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer, a buddy of Obama but a candidate with baggage that he carried into the general election: money lost in the Illinois Bright Start college savings plan run by Giannoulias, and the failure of his family owned Broadway Bank, including loans the bank made to crime figures.

Heading into the final days of the campaign, the Illinois Senate race remains deadlocked, in part because the Kirk campaign has never figured out how to put behind them a series of stories about Kirk embellishing his resume, particularly about his military service.

Former President Bill Clinton returns to Chicago on Tuesday for a get-out-the vote rally at a hotel in the city's Loop. President Obama comes home on Saturday for a final weekend election push.

The Kirk-Giannoulias contest outcome depends on turning out the base vote.

"I think Illinois is the closest state in the country right now," Duffy said.

Delaware became another surprise problem for the Obama team. When Obama tapped Biden to be his running mate no one was figuring there was any chance Democrats could have trouble keeping the seat.

Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner named Biden's top advisor Ted Kaufman to fill the vacancy, with Kaufman making clear he would not run for the seat in 2010. There was an assumption that Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, the son of the vice president, would step up and run for his father's seat, but he took a pass.

Without Beau Biden, Delaware Democrats at first figured they were in trouble because the popular Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) was seen as a strong GOP contender. Democrats fielded New Castle County Executive Chris Coons and handicappers made Castle the strong favorite.

Then came the Tea Party surprise. Christine O'Donnell -- with the backing of Tea Party activists -- beat Castle. After the upset, O'Donnell skyrocketed to national attention, not always to good result for her candidacy. A 1999 video surfaced in which she acknowledged dabbling in witchcraft as a teenager, followed by what many considered an ill-advised campaign ad that began with her saying, "I am not a witch," and most recently, her wondering, during a debate with Coons, if the First Amendment really called for separation of church and state.

The attention O'Donnell is getting from her First Amendment and witch comments may be "enough to tank her," Duffy said. Coons, who acknowledges he would have been behind in the polls against Castle, seems headed to a win on Nov. 2.

Colorado is a state where the Obama team might have thought more strategically before yanking Salazar for the cabinet, although the state would likely have been competitive for Democrats even if Salazar had stayed put.

When Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. tapped Michael Bennet, superintendent of Denver public schools, to replace Salazar, Bennet and the Obama team did not foresee that the political environment would be as tough for Democrats as it is.

If they had, Ritter may have picked "a known Colorado politician, somebody who ran for office before," said Sandra Fish, who covers Colorado politics for Politics Daily. But "at the time, you did not have the Tea Party factor," Fish said.

Bennett survived a tough primary challenge from Andrew Romanoff. Obama backed Bennett and Bill Clinton supported Romanoff in the intra-party feud.

Republican Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck is running a strong campaign against Bennet, whose incumbent status has given him little advantage in trying to contend with the strong Buck challenge.

First lady Michelle Obama hit suburban Denver on Oct. 14 to headline a fund-raiser for Bennet, the day after returning home to Chicago to help Giannoulias and cast her vote for him when she went to one of the early voting locations in the city. Last week, Clinton rallied Denver Democrats at a rally on the first day of early voting in Colorado.

"It's a close race and it is going to come down to the ground game," Fish said.

In New York, Gov. David Paterson appointed then-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to fill Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate seat, passing over Caroline Kennedy who had hoped for the appointment. Especially after former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuiliani and former Gov. George Pataki chose not to run, Republicans could not find a strong Gillibrand challenger. Gillibrand is well ahead of former Rep. Joe DioGuardi (R-N.Y.) in the polls.

With control of the Senate hanging, perhaps on the Illinois and Colorado outcomes. Duffy notes, "it could have been so much worse, if the Republicans had come up with a candidate in New York."
Filed Under: Senate, 2010 Elections

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331 Comments

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masoncce

The Dem's have had control of all 3 branches of our government for the past 2 years, all we hear is how the Republicans are blocking them from doing anything, how is it the party with all the power is being blocked? The fact is they have forced there programs down our throats without working with the otherside as was promised by Obama, he calls them the party of "NO", I perfer the party that is not invited! The best thing that ever happened to Clinton was the Republican wins in 94, he adopted many things in the contract with America and was re-elected, we also prospered as a country with both parties checking eachother. No one party has all the perfect answers, lets take great ideas from both sides, lets listen to both sides, the best laws that are written are ones when both sides did not get what they wanted. Wake up Mr. President, this has nothing to do with your race, your name, your religon, it has to do with your policies and where you are taking us as a country, there is another half of the country you need to listen to, and you need to show respect for. Thanks

November 01 2010 at 11:27 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
padams842

To jkahnc- I wish we could find a way to POST this COMMENT where a larger population could read. I absolutely agree with you, this is why I copied and post it again... I just want to remind the population that we elected George Bush for 8 years (putting the country into an atmosphere of the end justifies the means), we elected Richard Nixon for 8 years (his nickname after 1 term was Tricky Dick), we elected Bill Clinton for 8 years (he was able to make US sex jokes commonplace). President Barack Obama has handled himself as a distinguished statesman who is leading us with action rather than promises. He is pushing through those measures that he can with NO consideration from the other party! He has accomplished more positives in 2 years than any other president in our history. Wake up, more could have been done had there not been such mean, degrading attacks on our President from day 1. No other President has had to contend with attacks against his religion because we are in a religious war. Terrorists claim to be militant Muslims, emphasizing their ties to Islam. His religion, his citizenship as well as his color has been attacked since day 1 of his presidency. Add this to the "normal" vindictiveness following an election. What do you get? You get a man who cares about our future regardless of the personal attacks. If Barack Obama is guilty of anything in his first 2 years, it is that he was naive to the ferociousness of the Washington political scene and bipartisanship means that both sides must want to cooperate not just the President. There is not one person in the United States who should not show respect and support to the man the American people put into office. The Republicans have not shown leadership just bullying.

October 26 2010 at 2:09 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply
karrl

Although I am a 69-year-old life-long Democrat, I want to see what will happen when, as predicted, Republicans capture the House, because they will have to produce plans for the country rather than what they have done for the past 1 1/2 years--go to work, vote no, go home.

October 26 2010 at 1:46 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
jkennedy806

From Main Street, I think you will see alot of under=dogs get elected next Tuesday. Only because, there are no strings attached, no favors to return, no lobby to payback. that's why. It will become a vote for the American people. Not special interst, or power hungry elitists.

October 26 2010 at 10:36 AM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
dorokam

i remember as a boy sitting in a barber chair as then pres. nixon was giving his speech on tv to the american people apologizing for his wrong doings concerning the watergate affair. It amazes me that we can put him out of office for that but that we have to sit idolly by and watch the current president do a larger injustice to the american people. im not convinced that just by giving the republicans the senate and house that we are going to see much in the way of progress, giving what we have though its better than what we have now. The pres. will still have veto powers and the senate and house may be able to pass legislation that will hender the pres. agenda. But where does this leave us? with a big mess. the only answer i have come up with is to revamp our system it is nonsense that if a canidate wins a popular vote they can be denied office due to electoral votes. it is like saying we dont care what the people want your vote doesnt matter. Our politicians are suppose to answer to us and even if not their own personal view, vote for what the majority wants. when did we hand the country over to a handful of people? I hope all my fellow americans cry out in one voice to bring about the changes needed in order to put this country back in the peoples hands.

October 26 2010 at 10:36 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Rees

Well at least something good might come of Obama getting elected President now that maybe we can shift the congress back to Republican. Has no one but me noticed that the economy took a dive after the midterm elections in '06 when democrats took control and has continued to plumet ever since? Maybe now we can get the economy the way it was before the '06 midterms!

October 26 2010 at 10:22 AM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
Cathy

One 82-year-old lady loves Obama and she may have a very good point. She says that Obama is amazing, and is rebuilding the American dream! (Read on before groaning!) She gives us an entirely new slant on the "amazing" job Obama is doing, and she says that she will thank God for the President. Keep reading for her additional comments and an explanation. When discussing Obama, she says: 1. Obama destroyed the Clinton Political Machine, driving a stake through the heart of Hillary's presidential aspirations - something no Republican was ever able to do. 2. Obama killed off the Kennedy Dynasty - no more Kennedys trolling Washington looking for booze and women wanting rides home. 3. Obama is destroying the Democratic Party before our eyes! Dennis Moore had never lost a race. Evan Bayh had never lost a race. Byron Dorgan had never lost a race. Harry Reid - soon to be GONE! These are just a handful of the Democrats whose political careers Obama has destroyed. By the end of 2010, dozens more will be gone. Just think,in December of 2008 the Democrats were on the rise. In the last two election cycles, they had picked up 14 Senate seats and 52 House seats. The press was touting the death of the Conservative Movement and the Republican Party. However, in just one year, Obama put a stop to all of this and will probably give the House - if not the Senate - back to the Republicans. 4. Obama has completely exposed liberals and progressives for what they are. Sadly, every generation seems to need to re-learn the lesson on why they should never actually put liberals in charge. Obama is bringing home the lesson very well: Liberals tax, borrow and spend. Liberals won't bring themselves to protect America. Liberals want to take over the economy. Liberals think they know what is best for everyone. Liberals are not happy until they are running YOUR life. 5. Obama has brought more Americans back to conservatism than anyone since Reagan. In one year, he has rejuvenated the Conservative Movement and brought out to the streets millions of freedom loving Americans. Name one other time when you saw your friends and neighbors this interested in taking back America! 6. Obama, with his "amazing leadership," has sparked the greatest period of sales of firearms and ammunition this country has seen. Law abiding citizens have rallied and have provided a "stimulus" to the sporting goods field while other industries have failed, faded, or moved off-shore. 7. In all honesty, one year ago I was more afraid than I have been in my life. Not afraid of the economy, but afraid of the direction our country was going. I thought, Americans have forgotten what this country is all about. My neighbors and friends, even strangers, have proved to me that my lack of confidence in the greatness and wisdom of the American people has been flat wrong. 8. When the American people wake up, no smooth talking teleprompter reader can fool them! Barack Obama has served to wake up these great Americans! Again, I want to say: "Thank you, Barack Obama!" After all, this is exactly the kind of hope and change we desperately needed!!

October 26 2010 at 9:56 AM Report abuse +17 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Cathy's comment
cfbuck220

Aptly put about Historic Elections - being black does not make you qualified. It has also cast a shadow over any future black candidates - male or female. The color of the skin does not matter - the quality of the character is what makes a candidate President of this Great Nation. Yes, vote RESPONSIBLY this November 2. Choose the most qualified candidate. Put all of them under a microscope. The founders of this nation did not intend for these executive and legislative positions (house seats and senate seats - both national and state) to be careers. Fresh perspectives keep it closer to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. No Representative or Senator should be able to get a pension from one term - this is the first thing that needs to be worked on - after health care reform is addressed and the economy.

October 26 2010 at 9:56 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to cfbuck220's comment
tracer2524

And neither does being an ex white drunk man make you qaulified. Thats the problem with the REP and IND and Tea Pot logic-They all seem to have this complex social syndrome that white is right and black should stand back. You can not hide a racist even when they do not wear sheets. I agree about voting RESPONSIBLY however when everyone fails to see that theres no magic over night cure for what the past years of Republican waste of lives and spending has eventually created. A vortex that has sucked every nikle and dime from the Government coffers to fund their pet projects and personal investments. And as I said before this is what is he greatest threat not terrorism but unintended cult minded following of a group that does not and has not cared for those that vote for them-I can not see why this is such a hard thing to see by anyone-Thank you

October 26 2010 at 10:50 AM Report abuse -13 rate up rate down Reply
dorokam

I hope that it has not casted a shawdow over any race. bigotry is not a one way street it lies in all races, I am thankful that it is only a minority of the people that are consumed with the ignorance of hate. we as a nation have come a long way in acceptance of all people. this can certainly be seen by the diversity of races that are in leadership roles in every facet of our lives. To those that are consumed by this hatred all i can say is get over yourself and forgive your parents for teaching you hate!

October 26 2010 at 11:27 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
Jim Guy

Here's the deal.. I'm assuming most of you are not independently wealthy, so surely you must be fuming mad at anyone having more than you. There are more of you than there are independently wealthy,, so,,more votes due to class envy...Now, the problem at hand is that by definition an "AMERICAN" can become as wealthy as they want to, but this administration wants to continue rewarding non effort, and punishing effort. Lost somewhere in their history is the fact that those hated "rich" people, for the most part, take chances on the rest of us by opening busineses, and funding a payroll. I DO NOT WANT TO BE A LIMITED AMERICAN, I WANT TO BECOME RICH IF I CHOOSE TO PUT IN THE TIME, THE WORK, THE RESPONSIBILITY....I also want a yearly statement from our government detailing exactly what I have purchased with my tax dollars... Why not?

October 26 2010 at 9:50 AM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Jim Guy's comment
cfbuck220

I really like that statement part - and why not? Your investments give you a statement of what they did with your money. Same thing. But make it digital so the government doesn't waste the money on postage or printing.

October 26 2010 at 9:58 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
kevinjbarrett1

I can tell you where a lot of your tax dollars have gone. It's gone to pay for no shows. Its gone to people who do show up and say no and go golfing the rest of the day. Its gone for healthcare for congress members and their families but too good for us. It's gone for lifetime pensions for republicans who do nothing and so therefore fix NOTHING.Talk about rewarding non effort.

October 26 2010 at 2:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
FreedomChief

The trouble with Obama and his Socialist cronies is that they have no HONOR, no INTEGRITY, and God is watching. They constantly misread American's, and group us all into the 5% of their base, that they have brainwashed into believing their BS. One thing that is constant with us AMERICANS; is that you can push us around a little - and even steal from the countries coffers a little. However, when you blatantly try to steal the whole piggy-bank, or take over the country, we're no French(ies) - you're in trouble. As for the Republicans; you'd better take notice because we have had ENOUGH of your "Go along, to get along" shenanigans too! We want real Tort reform, open market options on health Insurance, the re-call and sinking of that ObamaCare Bill, Closed borders, Immigration overhaul to include those not wanting to conform to our laws being denied access to the country. A Bill/Law passed, outlawing an form of Sharia Law being conducted in this country, territories or possessions. A complete dismantling of the countries Education(s) system and rebuilt with the goal of Less Vacation and more Education, higher goals in standards for both students and teachers, and Finally - SMALLER GOVERNMENT. These goals can be achieved within 12 years over a gradual period of time. The only Nationally funded health coverage that is needed is for Catastrophic coverage. This can be achieved thru minimal tax increases that EVERYONE can help pay for thru increases in gas taxes, natural gas usage, electricity usage, and food purchases that would be so minimal that they would hardly be noticed. Social Security needs to be paid back from all those years that Politicians dipped into it for their "Special Interests". Laws must be passed to ensure that Politicians can not use these funds for other than what they are intended. We have to be imaginative, get people off welfare and back to work. Those who continue to draw welfare should be required to give back to their communities, and the tax payers, by working in local government offices in some capacity, for a determined period, for a determined number of hours. Finally, both auto manufacturing companies (GMC, and Chrysler) need to be SOLD and the Government out of the auto industry. We tax payers should not longer be required nor expected to pick up the tab on the lucrative retirement packages for GMC, Chrysler, the Teachers Unions, or the Postal Office. Then we can go after the retirement packages of POLITICIANS. Last but not least, the Stock Market has to be overhauled. It is currently nothing more that a roulette table in motion being run by stock brokers.

October 26 2010 at 9:50 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

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