January 13, 2009

George Voinovich Retiring. Can We Get a Republican Instead?

Hatched by Dafydd

George Voinovich (RINO-OH, 48%) has announced that he won't run for reelection. He joins Mel Martinez (R-FL, 80%), Sam Brownback (R-KS, 95%), Kit Bond (R-MO, 83%), and possibly Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX, 88%) in the list of Republican senators who have either announced they won't run for reelection in 2010 or, in Hutchison's case, appears ready to resign to run for governor of Texas.

Voinovich has been a thorn in the eyes of the GOP for his entire tenure as U.S. senator. Probably for that very reason, his prospects for reelection in 2010 were already dicey.

While Voinovich gives the usual phoney-baloney reasons for not running for reelection -- wants to do the work of the people instead of campaigning, wants to spend more time with his family, yak blah -- the real reason for his departure may be somewhat more prosaic:

In announcing that he would not seek another term, Mr. Voinovich avoids what could have been a difficult re-election fight. As recently as December a Quinnipiac University poll found that fewer than half of all voters in the state -- 44 percent -- said he deserved to be elected to a third term. And voters were nearly evenly split on the question of whether they would vote for him or an unnamed Democrat.

Voinovich won handily the last time he ran, winning by 64 to 36 against Mike Fingerhut; but this was in 2004, during Bush's successful reelection. He also won fairly easily the first time he essayed the Senate in 1998, 56 to 44; in that election, he "ignored" (Michael Barone's word) the attacks of his opponent, County Commissioner Mary Boyle, and ran on his record as Governor of Ohio, winning the seat vacated by American hero turned Clinton lickspittle John Glenn.

But in the new, more Democratic Ohio of 2006 (Sherrod Brown beats Mike DeWine at the peak of the Ohio GOP scandal) and 2008 (Ohio narrowly goes for Barack H. Obama as the financial "cratering" -- George W. Bush's word -- looms); with tepid polling; and with Voinovich being already 72 years old (74 when the next election is held), he evidently sees the "mene mene" on the wall.

But I'm not convinced that the public is rejecting Voinovich because, with his 2007 48% rating from the American Conservative Union, is too conservative. It's much more plausible that his low ratings derive from Republican reluctance to reelect yet another tax-hiking, gun-grabbing, war-defeatist surrender monkey RINO back to the Senate.

I'd love to see an actual Republican run to replace him in what used to be the Republican state of Ohio. The question is, can an actual Republican be elected? I say Yes, Rob Portman can -- for reasons detailed below.

The $1.2 trillion question is this: Has Ohio fallen fully under the sway of the Dark Side, or was 2008 just a "Democratic year," with the normal pattern of favoring the "out" party returning in 2010? Is a GOP election victory in Ohio even possible?

First, note that Obama beat John S. McCain there by only half the margin (4%) last year that Sherrod Brown beat Mike DeWine by (8%) in 2006. While there certainly are confounding factors, I would imagine that Obama nevertheless was at least as appealing a candidate to Ohioans as Brown... implying that the taint of the Gov. Robert Taft corruption scandal and the Jack Abramoff-related scandals in that state may not be long lasting.

Whether or not a real Republican can win, I still want to see a more conservative -- or libertarian-conservative -- nominee for the Voinovich seat than the departing man himself. At the very least, I want to see what happens, how well an actual Republican like Portman does in that state. I suspect that he will begin with an approval rating north of Voinovich's current 44%.

Rob Portman is, in fact, the supposed favorite to replace Voinovich on the GOP ticket; Portman is the former director of OMB under President Bush and a former Ohio congressman:

Among those who are reportedly angling to replace Mr. Voinovich is a former Ohio congressman, Rob Portman, a Republican who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget and United States Trade Representative during the Bush administration.

Mr. Portman has not yet announced his candidacy, but Matt Miller, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, sought to pre-empt him on Monday.

“It’s jaw-dropping,” Mr. Miller said, “that Republicans would seem to turn to a Washington insider like Rob Portman who was one of the architects of the Bush economic policies that have run up trillions in deficits and shipped jobs overseas.”

That "trillions in deficits" argument may not fly as well as a pig in 2010, after two years of Barack Obama's "stimulus" package.

Portman's last ACU rating (2004) was 88%, nearly twice that of Voinovich. Everyone seems to "expect" him to declare his candidacy today. He won all of his elections (general and primary) easily; but the second district of Ohio is staunchly Republican: Portman's successor, Jean Schmidt, even won in the debacle year of 2006 (albeit narrowly), then won reelection more substantially last year.

Even so, my intuition tells me that we're considerably better off in 2010 running Portman than Voinovich in the senatorial election, for all that we're swapping an incrumbent for an open seat.

The other states mentioned where Republican senators have decided not to run in 2010 (or in Hutchison's case, might decide to resign) seem reasonably safe to me: Only Florida went to Obama last November, and that extremely narrowly; Kansas and Texas were solidly for McCain, while Missouri remained red in the election's closest squeaker, 0.13%. But no congressional seats changed parties in MO in the 2008 election. (Several did in Florida, but they were nearly all attributable to the individual Republicans being personally enmeshed in either the Mark Foley or the Jack Abramoff scandals.) I don't see any projectable trend in those states from red to blue.

So far, at least, the retiring GOP senators have probably done us more good than bad by getting out now. I think that's certainly the case for Sen. Voinovich.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 13, 2009, at the time of 1:53 AM

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