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Fathers, sons, and senators

By Vincent Fiore
web posted January 23, 2006

One of the great hopes of the Democratic Party in this year's election cycle is to win back the Senate. The last time Democrats held the upper hand in the upper house of Congress, was when former Majority Leader Tom Daschle persuaded former Republican Senator Jim Jeffords (Ind,Vt.) to caucus with the Democrats in 2001.

Ah, but how the doings of those bereft of principle, honor -- and loyalty -- revisit those who would turn away from such attributes for personal gain. By the next election in 2002, Senator Jeffords, or "Jumpin Jim" as he was called by some, was in the minority with the Democrats -- relegated even more so to the back bench as he soon lost his party-switching appeal.

Since those turbulent early days of the Bush administration, the GOP has steadily increased its numbers in the Senate significantly. After the 2004 elections, Republicans jumped to a 55 to 45 seat majority. Though it is not filibuster-proof, it is the best margin of dominance the GOP has had since 1998.

So what to expect this year? There will be 33 senate contests -- 18 seats (including Jeffords' seat) up for Democrats, and 15 for Republicans -- and most seats are probably decided already. For instance, no one truly expects to unseat incumbents like Diane Feinstein, (D, Calif.) or Trent Lott, (R, Miss.). As usual, the gang over at Realclearpolitics.com has a stunning array of information and insight regarding the upcoming elections.

So expect the Clintons, Kennedys, Allens, and Lugars to survive any and all challenges. But the same cannot be said for two other Senate races worth watching.

Rick SantorumConservative favorite Rick Santorum, (R, Pa.), is in the fight of his life against Pennsylvania State Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., the son of the late and near-iconic Pennsylvania governor, Bob Casey. Casey's campaign has been one of near-invisibility -- saying little and doing even less. But to date, the strategy of "do-nothing campaigning" has paid off.

Because of the very long and illustrious coattails of his father, who died in May of 2000, junior finds himself in the enviable position of living off a legacy. Certainly, it seems as much, as Casey the junior has said little in the way of policy, and even less in answering direct questions.

Presently, Casey leads in the race for a seat that has not been filled by a Democrat since 1962. Though Santorum, the GOP's number three in the leadership lineup of the Senate, has bounced back in recent weeks, he still faces an uphill climb.

The latest Quinnipiac University Poll conducted from November 30 - December 6, 2005, shows Santorum gaining ground, but still 12 points below the magical 50% rating—a very important number for an incumbent.

Though the race in Pennsylvania may not be indicative to what this year's elections hold in store for the GOP, it is a fair indicator of the evolving political stripe of the Northeast in general, where RINOs, if not plentiful in sheer numbers when compared to Democrats, are nevertheless a sizable bunch.

But the more things change, they say, the more they stay the same. Further south, down the turnpike a ways, the big Democrat machine of New Jersey may be in line for just such a change. Looking at New Jersey and its history as being a bastion of corruption run by Democrats for Democrats, who could have predicted that there would be a competitive race for the U.S. Senate?

One-time New Jersey Congressman Robert Menendez (D, N.J.) was recently sworn in to complete the term of newly elected governor Jon Corzine. Menendez, who now owns the honor of becoming New Jersey's first Hispanic to represent the state in the U.S. Senate, will be going up against a candidate who also has the luxury of being the son of a legacy-intact father.

Menendez will have to stave off the genuine threat of state Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr., the son of former and well-liked New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean. Kean the senior, as many will recall, was chairman of the 9/11 Commission. Kean was also recognized as the "Best governor of New Jersey" by a recent poll done by Fairleigh Dickinson University.

How does this help Tommy Boy? Well, in this day and age of "Of course you know who my father was, don't you"? -- quite a bit. In the latest Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, Kean leads Menendez 36 percent to 25 percent.

When you see those numbers, realize that 37% do not yet know who they will support. However, also realize that the last elected Republican to represent New Jersey in the U.S. Senate was the late Clifford Case in 1979. For the National Democratic Party and Menendez specifically, none of these numbers are encouraging, not even that 37% number.

Given the name recognition alone of Tom Kean and the premise that New Jerseyites may be saying it is time for a change, the GOP may be able to send a Republican from New Jersey to the Senate for the first time in 26 years.

There are a few other Senate races worth watching, and every one of them is important. But there are few races where the specter of a famous father -- both living and dead -- plays such a prominent role in the elections of their sons.

Vincent Fiore is a freelance political writer who lives in New York City. His work can be seen on a host of sites, including the American Conservative Union, GOPUSA, ChronWatch, and Opinioneditorials. Vincent is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance and a contributing writer for NewsBusters.org. He receives e-mail at anwar004@aol.com.

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