It's not much of a stretch to call President George W. Bush a failure, nor is it unkind. It would be unkind not to call him that, in fact, because the success of America's style of government relies on open criticism of our elected officials, and when one is screwing up, we're honor bound to say so. That's the root of participatory democracy.
In 1973, when it became apparent that President Richard Nixon had gone too far in the abuse of the office of the president, all the Congressional Democrats stood up and started pressing for his resignation or impeachment, but it wasn't going to happen until most of the Republicans joined in, which eventually did come to pass. Of course, a proper investigation of Nixon's excesses might not have happened at all if both houses of Congress hadn't been controlled by Democrats who, all ethics aside, do have self interest at stake, and were naturally more disposed to investigating a Republican president than a Republican-controlled Congress.
Consider where we are today. In the time since Bush took over the presidency in 2001, the Republican Party has controlled the House continually, and has controlled the Senate for all but eighteen months. Further, political partisanship has run much deeper on the part of both parties over the past decade than it did during Nixon's time. Remember the 1990s, when the Republican-controlled House impeached President Clinton just because he lied about getting a blow job. These days President Bush has obviously lied to us about intelligence reports from Iraq, which he used to justify invading that nation, and hardly anyone is proposing an investigation of the criminal who currently occupies the Oval Office.
If the Democrats were to take control of either house of Congress (or both,) it's unlikely we'd see actual impeachment proceedings during Bush's last two years in office, but it's safe to assume that there'd be more of an investigation into the Bush administration's lies and misdirections leading up to the invasion of Iraq. And if Bush were impeached by one house of Congress, there's no guarantee that the other would also impeach him, even if the Democrats controlled both. Consider the blow job impeachment of 1998, when the the House voted to impeach but the cooler heads in the Senate did not.
Furthermore, as appealing as the impeachment of a criminal president sounds, would such a move be in the best interests of the Democratic Party, anyway? I believe that even if the Democrats take over both houses of Congress in 2006, they won't vote to impeach, but rather use the crashing failures of the Bush administration as cudgels on the president. This would be far more effective for the Democrats, since they'd have George W. Bush to kick around for two more years, and the Republican Party, as a bonus, is losing its cohesion already. Democrats in control would only exacerbate the Republicans' disarray
It's hard to say how likely it is that the Democrats will take one house or both. With the focus on all the scandals of the Republican Party in 2005, the Republicans have had trouble recruiting candidates. Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), widely considered to be vulnerable, doesn't seem to be attracting the Republican heavy hitters, with all of them focusing on the state's open governor's seat instead. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) is another Democrat who doesn't seem to be attracting an opponent, despite her low approval ratings in her own state. And Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) was also touted as vulnerable, but so far has only seen an opponent in the form of Rep. Katherine Harris, whose run isn't winning much approval on the part of her party, though no other Florida Republicans have stepped up to the plate. Sheesh... rig an election for the president, and five years later, they won't even take your calls! How's that for gratitude!
It seems unlikely that the Democrats will take back the Senate, but if they're going to pull off a miracle, this is their year to do it. There's only one Senate seat that stands a chance of switching from blue to red next year—the open seat currently held by retiring Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota. The Republicans have put forth Rep. Mark Kennedy (not a scion of the Massachusetts Kennedys) and have coalesced around him, while the Democrats look like they're going to have to face a primary between Attorney General Amy Klobuchar and children's activist Patty Wetterling. True or Better endorses Klobuchar, but the fact remains that it's too early to figure who could win the primary. Klobuchar has a strong, broad following in the state, while Wetterling has proven herself by giving Kennedy a close run for his seat in his own (very Republican) district back in 2002.
The Democrats need to pick up a net of six Senate seats to take control. Here are the seats where things look good (or at least kind of good) for us:
Arizona—One-term Senator Jon Kyl has voted along party lines, and remains popular—among Republicans. However, Kyl has lately been doing all he can to get his face in front of the cameras, hoping to distinguish himself from his more noticeable colleague, John McCain. It seems that Kyl wants more than to shake the dubious distinction of being "Arizona's other senator;" he seems to be working extra hard to stay in the spotlight these days. Kyl is being challenged by Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Jim Pederson, who's been garnering some national attention as of late, including an endorsement by General Wesley Clark, who for some reason is taking an interest in politcs far flung from his home state of Arkansas. (Could the general have bigger things on his mind?) Pederson has moved from gadfly status to that of a significant challenger lately, and Arizona's junior senator seat is looking more and more vulnerable. Kyl did lead the charge against Bush's abortive nomination of Harriet Miers, though, and he also opposes the Republican Party's fight against immigrants' rights. This is understandable, coming from a border state senator, but it won't help him in the eyes of the national party. Still, Kyl isn't the most vulnerable of Republicans; if Pederson or another Democrat were to take his seat over, it would be a remarkable upset.
Missouri—Jim Talent hasn't served a full term yet, having narrowly defeated Senator Jean Carnahan in a special election in 2002. The reason for the special election is that Carnahan was appointed to fill her late husband's seat when he was killed in a plane crash during the 2000 election three weeks before he went on to defeat the still-alive John Ashcroft. Talent is seeking a full term, but looks weak. He's voted pretty much exactly in step with the Bush administration all during his tenure in office, which might help him with his base, as long as Bush's popularity keeps... um... never mind. Talent's in trouble. Popular Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill is the decided Democratic candidate for this seat, and will pose a tough challenge. The name McCaskill is a big one in Missouri, and she'll give Talent a run for his money—and stands a good chance of tossing him out.
Mississippi—Mississippi's senior senator, Trent Lott, isn't exactly vulerable, but his seat might be. There are rumors that Lott might be retiring, which has the Republican National Committee all in a tizzy, having to go from not having to defend the seat at all to needing to defend an open seat. State representative Erik Fleming has declared his candidacy, but we can't call this serious unless Lott steps down.
Montana—Senator Conrad Burns is looking more and more vulnerable. He's been tied to Tom DeLay in a big way, and it's taking a toll on the perception of his integrity among Montanans. Montana isn't as reliably Republican as one might think, either. In fact, it's recently seen a Democratic takeover of its state government and its statehouse, and its senior senator, Max Baucus, is a Democrat, as well. State Senate Leader Jon Tester and State Auditor John Morrison are both vying for this vulnerable seat.
Ohio—Senator Mike DeWine has found himself in a tough spot lately, often voting against his party out of fear of alienating Ohio's largely moderate voting populace. DeWine, having served one term in the Senate, is facing unpleasantly low poll numbers. DeWine is also facing Iraq War veteran Paul Hackett and State Senator Sherrod Brown. Hackett has shown himself to be a formidable adversary, losing a House race to new Representative Jean Schmidt 52-48. The race was in Ohio's extremely conservative third district, and for a Democrat to do that well is something of a miracle. Brown has better name recognition statewide, and polls have shown that he'd be a far stronger candidate against DeWine. Of course, those polls were the Brown campaign's internal polling numbers, so take that with a grain of salt. At any rate, DeWine has something to worry about. We'll see if he can successfully distance himself enough from President Bush in time for next November, when this Rust Belt state, whose economy is suffering from the auto industry's recent financial woes, decides if it wants to keep this Republican around.
Pennsylvania—Senator Rick Santorum is considered to be the most vulnerable Senate Republican up for reëlection next year. Santorum first came to office in 1994, the Year of the Angry White Male, riding a wave of Republican partisanship to knock out incumbent Senator Harris Wofford (who had been appointed to finish the term of the late Senator John Heinz (R)). Santorum went on to narrowly defeat the disorganized, underfunded campaign of Pittsburgh area journalist Ron Klink in 2000. But this time, it looks like the Democrats are more serious about taking this seat. New York's Senator Chuck Schumer, who's been heading Democratic recruitment for 2006, saw to it that there would be no primary, chasing off former Republican Barbara Hafer, securing the nomination for State Treasurer Bob Casey, Jr. Casey is a bit too conservative for my tastes, but he's a darn sight better than Santorum, who's already trailing in the polls against Casey. This is one for the Republicans to worry about.
Rhode Island—Senator Lincoln Chafee has it tough, being a Republican in a heavily Democratic state. Worse for him, he's got a primary challenge to fend off against Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, who thinks Chafee is too liberal. If Laffey beats Chafee in the primary, this seat will almost certainly flip Democratic. The likely Democratic nominee is former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, though State Secretary of State Matt Brown is also in the running, along with Iraq vet Carl Sheeler. Even if Chafee survives the primary, he could still lose. 2006 is shaping up to be a fiercely partisan year—not a good time for a Republican in a fiercely Democratic state.
Tennessee—Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is stepping down next year, and is allegedly planning a run for the White House. This is leaving his Senate seat open, and there are many who are after it. This is a possible Democratic pickup, but at this point, it's hard to handicap this race. Rep. Harold Ford is the Democrats' prime candidate, but there's also State Senator Rosalind Kurita in the running. Ford is the favorite, and he's also very popular in the House. He's conservative enough for Tennessee, so he's a good candidate. A problem arose recently, though: Harold's uncle John Ford got nailed in an FBI sting operation called Operation Tennessee Waltz. If the sins of the uncle don't visit themselves on the head of the nephew, we could well see a Democratic pickup here, too. The Republicans haven't yet coalesced around a candidate, which is good news for Ford, who can spend more time solidifying his position while the Republicans catch up. Tennessee, with its Democratic governor and its conservative Democratic nominee, could see a seat flipping.
The Democrats would need to take twelve House seats to take control, which might just happen, considering the growing anti-Republican and anti-incumbent fever that we've been seeing more and more of lately. I don't have an analysis of twelve House seats that could flip in 2006, but... I'll have one. Watch this space.