Pass by Ryan still leaves Wis­con­sin Democrats in tough spot

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Ris­ing GOP star Rep. Paul Ryan is tak­ing a pass on next year’s open Se­nate race in Wis­con­sin, but that doesn’t make the con­test any eas­ier for the Demo­cratic Party, which is fac­ing an up­hill slog in a slew of bat­tles across the Mid­west.

Mr. Ryan’s de­ci­sion to stay in the House as the chair­man of the pow­er­ful bud­get com­mit­tee likely clears the path in Wis­con­sin for for­mer GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson in the scram­ble to re­place Sen. Herb Kohl, one of sev­eral Democrats who’ve cho­sen to re­tire rather than run again next year.

Those re­tire­ments, the emer­gence of well-known GOP con­tenders like Mr. Thompson, and the pre­car­i­ous po­si­tions of some in­cum­bents has com­pli­cated the Democrats’ task of hold­ing on to their slim Se­nate ma­jor­ity in 2012.

Of the 33 Se­nate seats up for grabs next year, the Democrats will have to de­fend 23.

Far­ther down the map, in Mis­souri, vet­eran con­gress­man W. Todd Akin on May 17 added his name to the list of Repub­li­can can­di­dates vy­ing to oust Sen. Claire McCaskill, per­haps the most vul­ner­a­ble Demo­crat in the up­per cham­ber.

And on May 16, Rep. Rick Berg, North Dakota Repub­li­can, rolled out his can­di­dacy for the seat now held by Kent Con­rad, the Demo­cratic chair­man of the Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee who also has de­cided to call it quits at the end of his term.

“At the end of the day, Repub­li­cans are prob­a­bly bet­ter off with all three of these things hap­pen­ing,” said Jen­nifer E. Duffy, se­nior edi­tor of the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port. “Democrats’ big­gest prob­lem is the lack of op­por­tu­nity. With only 10 Repub­li­can seats up, [Democrats’] fo­cus is re­ally go­ing to be on hold­ing their own.”

She added, “Repub­li­cans at this point are fa­vored to get the ma­jor­ity, but it’s not a done deal yet.”

Repub­li­cans hope to build on their elec­toral suc­cess last year, where they rode a wave of voter dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Wash­ing­ton and Pres­i­dent Obama to grab con­trol of the House and pick up six seats in the Se­nate.

Head­ing into next year, Repub­li­cans ap­pear poised to tag Democrats with the big spend­ing la­bel that has worked for them in the past. Democrats, mean­while, hope that the econ­omy will show signs of im­prove­ment, in­clud­ing the un­em­ploy­ment rate, and are also ex­pected to play up the de­ci­sion-mak­ing role Mr. Obama took in the raid that led to the death of Sept. 11 mas­ter­mind Osama bin Laden.

To take the up­per cham­ber in the com­ing elec­tion, Repub­li­cans need a three-or four-state swing, de­pend­ing on whether Mr. Obama wins a sec­ond term, thereby giv­ing Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Biden the tie-break­ing voter in the up­per cham­ber.

Larry Sa­bato, di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia’s Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics, said Democrats know this time around their Se­nate ma­jor­ity is “greatly threat­ened” be­cause, of the dozen or so seats that are likely to be truly com­pet­i­tive, Democrats hold about 10.

By Mr. Sa­bato’s early count, Repub­li­cans are likely to pick up Mr. Con­rad’s seat in North Dakota and are well-po­si­tioned to take out Sens. Ben Nel­son of Ne­braska, Jon Tester of Mon­tana and McCaskill of Mis­souri. Other pos­si­ble Repub­li­can pick­ups in­clude Vir­ginia, New Mex­ico and now Wis­con­sin, fol­low­ing Mr. Kohl’s an­nounce­ment two weeks ago that he would not seek a fifth term.

His de­ci­sion rep­re­sents the big­gest re­cent blow to Democrats’ chances of run­ning the show in the Se­nate for an­other two years.

“The Democrats are go­ing to have a harder time hold­ing that seat now that Kohl is not there,” said Barry C. Bur­den, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin. “It was his to lose, and now it’s up for grabs.”

Mr. Kohl’s re­tire­ment left many think­ing that Mr. Ryan would set his sights on the seat. But the Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can put an end to the spec­u­la­tion on May 17.

Be­ing “chair­man of the House Bud­get Com­mit­tee al­lows me to have a greater im­pact in avert­ing this debt-fu­eled eco­nomic cri­sis than if I were to run for the United States Se­nate,” he said.

Man of the House: Rep. Paul Ryan

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