From NBC's Mark Murray
Given the Senate Democrats' inability to pass their Iraq measure yesterday -- as well as earlier non-binding resolutions against Bush's troop increase -- the conventional wisdom is building that the Democrats can't stop tripping over themselves when it comes to Iraq. "Defeat on Retreat," blares a Republican National Committee press release today.
But who faces the biggest political risks regarding these votes? Senate Democrats or their GOP counterparts? Next year, Republicans must defend 21 Senate seats (compared with 12 for the Democrats), and four of them are held by incumbents running for re-election in blue states -- Susan Collins in Maine, Norm Coleman in Minnesota, John Sununu in New Hampshire, and Gordon Smith in Oregon. And last year, with the Iraq war dominating the political landscape, Republicans lost big in all of these states: They lost the Senate race in Minnesota by a whopping 20 points (and the popular GOP governor there barely won); their two House incumbents in New Hampshire lost; and they were unable to defeat two vulnerable incumbent governors in Maine and Oregon.
Yet with polls showing that the political landscape has changed little since last year's election, it's worth noting that Smith was the only Republican to vote for the Democratic measure yesterday; Collins, Coleman, and Sununu all voted against it. "The best thing that's happening is these votes against this stuff," a Democratic operative said about the Iraq votes. "We are smacking them around."
To be sure, these four Republicans have all done things to give them some cover in these blue states. Last month, Collins, Coleman, and Smith voted for the non-binding resolution opposing Bush's troop increase. Sununu is now calling for Alberto Gonzales' resignation in the wake of the US attorneys firing. And as we mentioned earlier today, Smith gave a speech on the Senate floor late last year saying he was "at the end of my rope" in supporting Bush and the Iraq war.
But is that enough? Sununu voted against the non-binding resolution opposing the troop increase, as well as an earlier procedural vote on the measure. Smith also voted nay in that procedural vote. The stakes regarding these four GOP incumbents are high: With Democrats in good position to pick up the open GOP-held seat in Colorado, a loss among any of the four would make the Republicans' chances of taking back control of the Senate even tougher.
But Republicans aren't the only ones who may need some cover heading into next year. Democrats have at least four Senate incumbents hailing from red states who are running for re-election (or at least seem to be): Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Max Baucus in Montana, and Tim Johnson in South Dakota. Landrieu and Baucus voted for yesterday's Iraq measure, while Pryor voted against it; Johnson, who is still recovering from his brain hemorrhage, didn't vote. And if someone like Hillary Clinton becomes the presidential nominee at the top of the ticket, these incumbents might find themselves -- at the very least -- in a tight race.