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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Relevant and Irrelevant Republicans

As part of the continuing debate here and elsewhere about how to interpret Barack Obama’s pledge to govern in a bipartisan or post-partisan manner, Matt Yglesias offers an important point about the GOP Members of Congress whose votes are really necessary for the Obama administration or Democratic congressional leaders. There aren’t that many:

The House Republicans are, in effect, irrelevant. The House GOP mattered in the 110th Congress because President Bush used his agenda-setting powers to frame a certain number of issues such that Blue Dogs agreed with the Republicans. In the 111th Congress, you’ll have more liberals (making Blue Dog votes less necessary) plus more Blue Dogs (reducing the proportion of the Blue Dog faction you need to get all the Blue Dog votes you need) and a Democratic president who presumably won’t deliberately shift the agenda to terrain that lets the Republicans get the upper hand.
What matters is the Senate. And I would suggest that what matters here is less the number of moderates than the number of people representing states Obama won. Namely — Senators Collins, Snowe, Spectre, Voinovich, Lugar, Grassley, Burr, Martinez, Ensign, and possibly Coleman. Obama will have a strong argument to make that the voters of those states would like to see congress cooperate with the Obama agenda, and he has the organizational tools at his disposal to ensure that voters who feel that way are able to express their feelings to their senators.

I’d go farther and say that one of Obama’s goal is to generate enough public sentiment for his agenda among rank-and-file independents and Republicans that his overall support levels may begin to intimidate congressional Republicans, no matter where they are from. But Matt’s right: it is important to recognize whose votes are significant and whose would represent no more than gravy.

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