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The Battle for America 2010: Special Election Candidates Promise to Stop Lame-Duck Agenda

Last week I wrote about the first of three key strategies to neutralize the lame-duck threat: persuading moderate Republicans.  That strategy, however, may not be enough to stop all of the lame-duck threats, especially on taxes and spending (Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, for instance, seems eager to vote for tax hikes recommended by Obama’s deficit commission). The numbers of U.S. senators inclined to oppose Harry Reid’s runaway lame-duck agenda, however, can be increased on Election Day and that’s where the second key strategy comes in: educating voters in the key special election states whose new senators will be seated for the lame-duck session.

There are three states holding special elections whose winners will be seated as soon as they are certified: Delaware, Illinois, and West Virginia.

Here’s where each state stands.

Delaware is holding a special election for the unexpired four years of Vice President Joe Biden’s term, and insurgent tea party candidate Christine O’Donnell has made a promise to stop the lame duck-agenda a centerpiece of her primary campaign against moderate Republican Mike Castle. O’Donnell has been vocal in her opposition to policies like cap and trade, card check, and tax hikes which are on the lame-duck agenda. She has made a clear public commitment to oppose any major policy changes in a lame-duck session.

Castle recently matched her promise to stop the lame-duck agenda. I asked his staff for a statement from Castle on the lame-duck session and they provided this very strong statement from the congressman: “The only business that should be conducted during a lame-duck session of Congress is keeping the government running until the newly elected legislators are sworn in. I do not agree with those who say this period of time should be used for passing controversial legislation and would not play a role in helping to circumvent the will of American voters.”

This is big news because Castle, unlike O’Donnell, is not a conservative. He has frequently crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats, including on cap and trade and more recently on the DISCLOSE Act and the $26 billion bailout of the states.  If he can be held to this strong promise on the lame-duck agenda, however, at least he will not help Democrats jam things through in the lame-duck session. Democrat Chris Coons has been silent on the lame-duck issue.

Illinois will hold parallel elections on November 2: a general election to a six-year Senate term and a special election to fill out the final two months of President Obama’s unexpired term. Under ordinary circumstances, the six-year term would be the only one that mattered, but with the looming lame-duck threat the two-month term could be extremely consequential. Fortunately, at least one of the candidates has promised to put the brakes on the lame-duck agenda: Mark Kirk. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe last week, Kirk made a clear promise to stop the lame-duck threat if elected.  He went further in the Washington Post, saying, correctly: “The only legitimate thing for the Congress to do is to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep the doors open — and let the voice of the American people as communicated through their new representatives and senators speak in January.”

Kirk’s Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, has not made a similar promise to prevent a runaway lame-duck session from circumventing the national elections.

West Virginia is having a special election to fill the remaining two years of Robert C. Byrd’s term. The primary will be this Saturday, August 28, and the likely nominees will be Republican businessman John Raese and Democratic Governor Joe Manchin. Both men are running as conservatives, and the lame-duck issue may provide the best litmus test of the claim.

If Manchin is not willing to make a clear public commitment to buck the national Democratic Party and its extreme agenda to block a lame-duck session, then voters concerned about cap and trade, card check, tax hikes and a range of other issues would do well to consider voting for Raese. I recently spoke with Raese, who signed our NoClimateTax.com pledge and promised to oppose a lame-duck session. I expect he will specifically campaign on stopping the lame-duck agenda — as Kirk and O’Donnell are doing — and that if Manchin fails to match the promise it may become a defining issue in the campaign.

These three states (and possibly Colorado, although it appears unlikely that Michael Bennet will follow custom there) will offer their voters an opportunity to elect U.S. senators who can be immediately seated to derail Reid’s lame-duck ambitions.