Finally, in Tennessee, where Majority Leader Bill Frist is retiring to pursue an increasingly quixotic campaign for president, the Republicans have abjectly failed to be as ruthless and top-down as Schumer has been. Instead of handpicking their strongest candidate, the party has allowed a raucous primary to break out, one that won’t end until August 3, which won’t give the eventual winner much time to regroup. Still, it will be a difficult seat for the Democrats to claim. Their nominee, Congressman Harold Ford Jr., has a reputation in Washington for being more of a show horse than a workhorse, and questions of maturity have long dogged him. He seems preoccupied about whether Tennessee is enlightened enough to send a black man to represent it in the Senate or whether he might be blamed for the sins of an uncle caught up in a bribery scandal. Like McCaskill, he has been forced to distance himself from Washington Democrats and stress his opposition to gay marriage and “partial birth” abortion.
Winning all six of these races as well as the open seat in Minnesota while holding on to all their vulnerable incumbents is hardly a sure thing for Democrats. But the national climate is getting more poisonous for the GOP, and polls show that the mood of the country is as sour now as it was at this point in 1994 when Democrats were turned out of power. But it is still a dream.
Some Democrats, however, have been flirting with a slightly altered version of the dream. Wouldn’t it be better, they wonder, if they came close to winning back the Senate this year, but accomplished the task only in 2008? After all, a slim Senate majority would make it difficult to govern, perhaps giving Bush the opportunity to turn the new Senate leadership into a useful foil, just as Bill Clinton did to Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, and thereby revive his presidency. Furthermore, this alternate dream scenario goes, in 2008, there are 21 Republicans up for reelection and only 12 Democrats. Wouldn’t that be the moment for Democrats to come sweeping back into power?
It would be unusual, but people who have watched Schumer over the past year and a half as he has become increasingly consumed by his DSCC work believe that he would be willing to stay in the job for another two years if he falls short this year. Aides close to him agree. Asked about that scenario, Schumer will only say, “Let’s see how I do this time.”