December 6, 2023

American parliament



Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

American parliament

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – We could wake up on November 5th with two additional Independents elected to the U.S. Senate and majority control awaiting the outcome of two runoff elections, one in Louisiana on December 6, the other in Georgia on January 6, three days after the new Congress is sworn in. These races reflect both the nip and tuck nature of who’s ahead in key places, plus voter frustration and disgust with the two major parties and the gridlock they represent.

It will set a record if the number of Independents in the Senate expands by one or two on Election Day. There are currently two, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine. Both caucus with the Democrats, but there is no guarantee that either of the most viable Independents on the ballots this year would do the same and cast their lot with the Democrats.

Neither has said, and both are within striking distance of winning in their respective states. Larry Pressler, a former three-term Republican senator, has shaken up what was supposed to be a sleepy race in South Dakota, converting the deep red state into a battleground for Senate control. He’s been out of the Senate for almost 18 years, shedding his Republican label and voting for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

He pledges to serve only one term and says he will never raise money while he’s in office, an appealing platform in the wake of the Citizens United ruling that opened the floodgates of special interest money in elections. Pressler is the wild card in the 3-way South Dakota race against Republican Mike Rounds and Democrat Rick Weiland, and if he wins, it would be on the strength of his quirky history and defiance of politics as usual.

In Kansas, Independent Greg Orman has forced Republican Pat Roberts to campaign aggressively for the seat he has held for the last 18 years without having to break a sweat. Orman has tapped into the discontent Kansans feel about Washington and about their senior senator, who rents a barcalounger in a friend’s house when he returns to the state.

Orman gained ground when the Democrat in the race dropped out, and he was able to coalesce the anti-Roberts vote. Since then, the Republican establishment has intervened from Washington with an All Points Bulletin to come to Roberts’ rescue. Everyone from Mitt Romney to Sarah Palin has since come into the state to show the flag with Roberts.

Orman won’t say which party he would favor in Washington should he win, only that he would likely go with the side where he could have more impact. If the Republicans win enough seats for Senate control on Election Day, Orman could well choose the GOP. On the other hand, if the majority is up for grabs, he could have a great deal of power as the majority-maker.

Unlike Orman, Pressler is a bit easier to read. While he won’t commit to either party, he says he would be “a friend of Obama” if the voters return him to office. In conservative South Dakota, that’s not smart to say. But Pressler is banking on the fact that voters prefer candor rather than the kind of dodgy statements that are the stock trade of politicians.

Adding to this November’s drama are two races headed for runoffs. In Louisiana, if Democrat Mary Landrieu falls short of 50 percent in her bid for reelection, the race goes into a runoff with her likely challenger, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, a physician who wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which he calls the “Unaffordable” Care Act. In Georgia, Democrat Michelle Nunn is running even with Republican businessman David Perdue, but reaching 50 percent will be hard for either of them with Libertarian Amanda Swafford gaining up to 10 percent of the vote.

In the end, the country could end up with a Senate that looks somewhat like a parliament, where parties are often compelled to form coalitions to create a majority. If so, these Independents might just hold enough sway to hold at least one party in the center.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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