Less noted in the discussion this year’s mid-term elections, preoccupied as it has been with party labels (and which party will be in control of the senate next January), have been signs of rejuvenation in the Democratic Party’s centrist wing. (This trend, I hasten to say, does not include President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress.)
As I have previously pointed out, the likely election of centrist Democrat Joe Manchin to succeed the aging Robert Byrd in West Virginia is a notable example of this. But the trend is present in other seats vacated by incumbent Democrats (by retirement, primary defeat or death) in 2010. Richard Blumenthal is ahead in Connecticut, and has a record more likely to be to the center of retiring Senator Chris Dodd. Kirsten Gillebrand was appointed to succeed Hillary Clinton in New York in 2009, so the seat is not technically an open one, but Senator Gillebrand is up for election for the first time and has a huge lead in the race. She used to be more centrist when a congresswoman, but she is certainly less liberal than Mrs. Clinton. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania may not win this year, but if he does, he will likely be to the center right of the man he defeated for the nomination, Arlen Spector, a party-switching former liberal Republican. It’s more opaque in Illinois where Democrat Roland Burris was appointed to finish the term of Barack Obama on his election as president. Liberal Burris chose not to run, but it is not clear if the Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulis is much more than a Chicago machine politician, and how centrist he might be if elected. (His center-right GOP opponent seems now to have a slightly better chance of winning.)
Democratic centrists will lose a seat to the GOP in November since Evan Bayh is retiring, and will probably lose another when Arkansas incumbent Blanche Lincoln likely loses in November. Although appointed center-left Democrat Ted Kaufman (who replaced Vice President-elect Joe Biden) is not running in Delaware, likely GOP winner in that race Congressman Michael Castle is himself considered a GOP centrist.
But Castle is the exception this year on the Republican side where likely winning candidates have moved distinctly to the right. Conservative GOP nominee Joe Miller has defeated centrist Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska. Appointed Republican George LeMieux will likely be replaced by a more conservative Marco Rubio. Most other retiring Republicans will be replaced by those who are equally or more conservative than they are.
Thus, whether or not the Republicans win control of the U.S. senate in 2010, the upper house will almost certainly become distinctly more conservative. In fact, conservatives may control the senate regardless of their party affiliations.