The PJ Tatler

Is The Sec. of Interior Helping Senate Republicans?

It’s an odd move, but Slate’s Dave Weigel says that’s what Mr. Salazar could be doing, as he prepares to make his exit this March. In his post published today, Weigel, citing Al Kamen of The Washington Post, wrote:

Add another name to the possible candidates for Interior secretary, a post that will be vacant when Ken Salazar departs the agency in March: Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) We hear Salazar suggested Udall as a potential replacement, and that his name has been sent to the White House for consideration.
The Democrats’ problem rests with Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, who would then pick someone within her own party to replace the vacant seat left by Udall – IF he become the next Secretary of the Interior.   As Weigel noted, this could ruin Democrats’ plan for filibuster reform.

Maybe Salazar is just doing his friend a solid and raising his profile. (Udall’s one of three Democratic leaders on filibuster reform, so he could use it, possibly.) If he actually hasn’t thought out what would happen to Udall’s Senate seat, it reveals a strange cavalier approach to the Democrats’ central problem: The fact that everything croaks in the Senate. If Udall was confirmed tomorrow, then there wouldn’t be 51 votes for filibuster reform.

On the other hand:

That would kick the Democrats down to 54 Senate seats, which boost overall GOP optimism for winning the upper House in 2014. (They’ve got the candidates they want in West Virginia and South Dakota already.) The effect, for liberals, would be comparable to the effect of promoting Gov. Janet Napolitano to the cabinet in 2009 — a decision that gave Arizona the glory of Gov. Jan Brewer.

In South Dakota, former governor Mike Rounds intends to challenge Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson.  However, keep your eye on Rep. Kristi Noem, who booted incumbent Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in 2010.  With Sen. Jay Rockefellar (D- WV) retiring, the seat is open, and Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito has already tossed her hat into the ring.  Given the odd dynamics of West Virginia, with Democrats dominating state politics, but voting Republican in presidential elections, this should be an interesting race to watch.  Barack Obama suffers low approval ratings in West Virginia, and won none of its fifty-five counties in 2012 election.

With other eminently beatable Democrats, like Kay Hagan, Mark Begich, and Mark Pryor, it’s not impossible for Republicans to retake the Senate. With the plausible loss of Udall’s seat to a Republican – this could be a morale booster.  Although, it’s up to Republicans to hit the ground running, which needs to happen right now.