Here’s good news to the cause of good government. West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, styled by partisan Democrats as the “conscience of the Senate” and by those who are less biased as the last troglodyte in the body, could be defeated in his bid for his umpteenth term in the Senate.
He’s up for election in 2006, and the latest polling in West Virginia indicates that an attack of sanity and judgment may, at last, be hitting an electorate that has routinely elected the 87-year-old Byrd to the Senate eight times with never less than 59 percent of the vote. A survey by RMS Strategies, a West Virginia firm, shows Byrd barely ahead of Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, 46-43 percent.
Byrd, who still boats a 62-28 favorable-unfavorable ratio, may have met his match and master in Capito, who has a statewide rating of 57-35.
While the West Virginia electorate remains 56-32 Democrat over Republican, it is also conservative as opposed to liberal by 67-30. (The survey likely includes moderates among the 42 percent who style themselves “somewhat conservative.”)
Nevertheless, West Virginia went for President Bush by 56-43 in 2004 and 52-46 in 2000, and voters who back the GOP nationally are getting less and less forgiving of their Democratic representatives and senators in Congress. As party-line voting increases in Washington and the well-publicized partisan feuds animate the body, voters are getting the point that as long as the legislators vote a straight party line, so should they.
According to The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund, the number of “turnover” districts — “those voting for a House member of one party and a presidential candidate of the other” — has shrunk from 110 in 1996 to 86 in 2000 to only 59 in 2004.
The Senate would realign 62-38 if every state elected senators from the same party as the presidential candidate they supported, and nine Republicans and 16 Democrats would be defeated. But if we refine the calculations further and eliminate the swing states, which went narrowly for Bush or John Kerry in 2004, we have three Republicans from overwhelmingly Democratic states and 11 Democrats from states Bush carried handily.
The Republicans in deep-blue states are Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, which Kerry won by 54-45, and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, which Kerry won by 60-39.
The Democrats who represent bright-red states are Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas (Bush carried it by 54-45), Evan Bayh of Indiana (Bush 60-39), Mary Landrieu of Louisiana (Bush 57-42), Max Baucus of Montana (Bush 59-39), Ben Nelson of Nebraska (Bush 66-33), 2002’s narrow escapee Tim Johnson of South Dakota (Bush 60-39), Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota (Bush 60-36) and Jay Rockefeller and Byrd of West Virginia (Bush 56-43.)
These senators had better start splitting their tickets and stop toeing the party line if they expect their voters to do likewise. The lesson of Tom Daschle in South Dakota in 2004 should be written large enough for all to see.
But Byrd needs beating for a host of other reasons. His defense of the filibuster was natural, since it was he who conducted a lonely 14-hour attempt to kill the 1964 Civil Rights Act by talking until he almost dropped. He stays in office by being a pork-barrel machine who waxes eloquent, at the same time, on the perils of deficit spending.
If he is the Senate’s conscience, the body is in deep trouble.
You don’t have to be a Republican to like Capito, just somebody interested in restoring a modicum of integrity, intellectual and otherwise, to the once-august United States Senate.
(The RMS Strategies poll was taken May 11-18 among 401 registered voters in West Virginia by telephones at the call center in Charleston. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.)