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November 01, 2006

Initial thoughts: Meet Me In St. Louis

By James R. Copland

My initial thoughts on Election '06 are, in general, very much in line with Ted's and Walter's. The U.S. House is going to change hands, period. The question is not if the Democrats will take control but whether they'll have a sufficient margin of victory to have real working control, versus a bare majority.

The Senate could change hands, too. I think whether the GOP has control of the Senate, even slightly, is more important than my friend Ted does. Voting down a Supreme Court nominee by a majority is very different, in terms of electoral resonance, than via a filibuster. "Majority rules," if dubious in terms of public choice theory, makes for a potential rallying point--and filibustering a conservative appointment to the High Court could be a great antidote to disenchantment among the Republican base. Of course, if nobody steps down from the court over the following 2 years, I tend to agree that 49-51 and 50-50 aren't too different.

As of a week or two ago, I'd have said the GOP would hold on to the Senate with the barest of majorities. But George Allen's continuing gaffes--highlighted most recently by his effort to paint Jim Webb as a sex pervert based on his acclaimed war novels--make it look much more likely that Virginia could switch over.

The unknown variable in that race is the anti-gay marriage ballot initiative, one of the several Walter alludes to. The Old Dominion State's version is particularly troubling, I think, in that it potentially abrogates private contracts by stating that Virginia "shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage." Proponents insist that the language is intended to prevent courts from recognizing a right to civil unions--an argument sure to be reinforced by New Jersey's recent decision to that effect. See the decision here. How the courts would ultimately interpret the amendment is an open question, though, and we should expect lots of future litigation over custody and trust/estate issues, among others, were the amendment to pass. From the Senate race standpoint, the question is whether the amendment will mobilize "base" voters, on either side, and if the conservative base is so mobilized, whether they'll stay home with Allen or cross over in some numbers to former Republican and war hero Webb.

If the Allen seat does switch, and the Dems hold onto Maryland and New Jersey, which seems likely, and take over the Santorum, Chaffee, DeWine, and Burns seats, which seems even more likely, the Dems will have a net pick-up of 5, one below their magic number, with only GOP two seats in play, Tennessee and Missouri. Harold Ford has run a good race, but Corker looks to be well-positioned there, notwithstanding pundits' efforts to make the RNC's satiric ad into a "Willie Horton" issue. (Or perhaps because of those efforts--the Dems were the ones who brought both ads to the fore; and one can't imagine that the moderate majority of Tennessee folks who aren't racist like to be portrayed as backwater dupes by the national media.)

Which brings us to Missouri, where the race between Talent and McCaskill is the closest on the Real Clear Politics tracking polls, and split 50/50 on the trading markets. The race for national control of the Senate may thus come down to how long they keep the polls open in the home of the World Series champs.

As for interesting state races to watch, my eyes will first go across the Mississippi from St. Louis, to Madison County, the topic of my next post.

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Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.