2008: If you thought 2006 was bad, you ain't seen nothing yet.
That's the message that Senator Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has for anyone who has it in mind to support a Republican senator up for re-election next year - and especially for anyone living in Oregon, home state to Senator Smith, a moderate Republican and obvious target for the Democrats heading into 2008.
Mr. Smith is, after all, a rare animal in the Senate, and one who on the surface looks like easy pickings for Mr. Schumer and his pals.
Like a rather more liberal Republican who lost his senate seat last year — Lincoln Chafee — Mr. Smith represents a largely blue state. The Democratic candidate has won Oregon in each of the last five presidential elections. Mr. Smith is the only Republican serving in prominent statewide office. Four out of Oregon's five congressmen are Democrats. And, last year, the Republican candidate for governor only managed to garner 43% of the vote.
Also, like the infamous Mr. Chafee, Mr. Smith is poorly regarded by conservatives in his home state, despite the fact that (unlike Mr. Chafee) he is pro-life and has a solid record on tax cuts and free trade.
Mr. Smith, and (to date) most of Oregon's voters, seem to prize his reputation as something of an independent and a maverick. But conservatives see little to like in a man who has proven to be one of the most prominent Republican critics of the continued prosecution of the Iraq War, who supports hate-crimes legislation, comprehensive immigration reform, and federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and who has been unenthusiastic about the idea of drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
One of those conservatives — Bill Sizemore, an anti-tax advocate who garnered a mere 30% of the vote in a 1998 gubernatorial election — even appears to be gearing up to primary Mr. Smith.
Should Mr. Sizemore proceed, it looks like he will meet with little success. He admits he would have trouble raising money for such a challenge, and many Republicans in the Beaver State seem well aware that given Oregon's current political climate, a conservative who is more Tom Tancredo than John McCain would go down in flames against just about any Democratic opponent in a general election. More to the point, despite the conservative Club for Growth having recently opened up shop in Oregon, it does not appear at present that they plan to back Mr. Sizemore should he decide to ride into battle against Mr. Smith. So Mr. Sizemore seems to have no real prospect of powerful assistance in his potential RINO-hunting quest.
But, despite the odds against Mr. Sizemore, with Mr. Smith's approval rating hovering around 48% according to SurveyUSA, and everyone aware that Mr. Schumer and the Democratic Party will be eagerly rubbing their hands at the sign of any weakness on his part, Mr. Smith's team will be at least a little worried about the prospect of a primary.
After the experiences of intra-party primary challenges over the last few election cycles, it is becoming painfully clear to those labeled as too "centrist" for their parties that even when a contentious primary is won, internal fighting can contribute to a loss in the general election. The challenged candidate spends valuable time fighting off the adversary from the right (or the left), while his or her opponent from the other party walks with comparative ease toward victory.
However, whether there's discord on the Republican side or not this time out, the Democrats don't particularly seem to have their act together to try to knock out Mr. Smith.
Mr. Schumer has yet to convince a single viable or credible Democrat to take on the incumbent — perhaps because, unlike the majority of his GOP colleagues, Mr. Smith has gone to great lengths to inoculate himself against the virus of anti-war backlash that Republicans so fear.
Despite all of Mr. Schumer's best recruitment efforts, at the end of the day, Rep. Peter DeFazio, once the presumptive Democratic nominee, has said he is not interested. Moreover, Rep. Earl Blumenauer and State Treasurer Randall Edwards (Democratic choices Nos. 2 and 3, respectively) have also taken a pass.
As it stands, this leaves the Democrats choosing between frequent candidate Pavel Goberman, businessman Ty Pettit (a bit like an Oregonian John Edwards), and Democratic activist Steve Novick, who seems to be the netroots favorite. Mr. Novick's frontrunner status, in the wake of Ned Lamont's loss to Joe Lieberman last year, doesn't seem terribly auspicious for the Democrats.
A few months back, Mr. Smith was one of the incumbents who, by all accounts, should have been shaking in his shoes, looking forward to 2008. But, for now at least, the planets seem to be aligned in his favor — and the smart money is on them staying that way for the foreseeable future.
Mr. Schumer may not like it, but it's worth a bet that Mr. Smith will indeed go back to Washington, once again, come January 2009.