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Failed Filibuster Bid Worries Democrats

Although the Senate on Monday soundly defeated the 11th-hour decision by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to push for a filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito, some Democrats worry privately that the failed filibuster could have long-term effects on the party’s ability to regain control of the chamber in November.

Despite an aggressive, last-minute public relations push to gin up support for the filibuster by Kerry, fellow Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) and liberal interest groups, the gambit went down, 72 to 25, Monday afternoon.

Officially, Kerry’s Democratic colleagues have avoided directly criticizing Kerry or addressing frustrations with its 2004 presidential candidate. For instance, when asked about frustrations with Kerry amongst party insiders, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) would only say that he thinks “John Kerry is entirely sincere in doing what he thinks is best for the American people.”

Privately, however, many Democratic aides and lawmakers — including those who adamantly oppose Alito’s nomination — expressed growing frustration with Kerry.

Although establishment Democrats have been cool to the Massachusetts lawmaker since last November — a review of campaign-finance records on PoliticalMoneyLine.com indicated that Kerry has not received contributions from any House or Senate Democratic aides, lawmakers or affiliated political action committees since the 2004 election — the Alito nomination has prompted a wave of complaints by Democrats who say they fear the episode could hurt the party’s chances in November.

One Democratic source close to several “red-state” Democrats said that forcing a filibuster vote has resulted in several lawmakers who were leaning towards opposing Alito to have now decided to vote for him.

One veteran Senate Democratic aide grumbled, “72 to 25? More people voted for cloture on the energy bill. Twenty-five — that’s just your party faithful and people running for president.”

While senior Democratic aides downplayed the long-term implications of the filibuster defeat, they acknowledged that in the near-term, it had caused the party some difficulties.

“While I don’t think it will amount to a hill of beans in the end, the White House should send him a bouquet of flowers for this,” one senior aide said, adding that “the timing couldn’t have been worse ... for a Member like this to open us up to criticism of being a divided party.”

Indeed, Republicans hailed the vote as a defeat of partisan “obstructionism” and privately crowed over what they saw as a political gift from Kerry and his liberal allies.

“John Kerry is the gift that keeps on giving. The more he acts out the blog fantasies of the far-left groups, the more he gets the mainstream conservative blood pumping,” a GOP aide said.

Although Kerry’s announcement Friday, made while the he was on a trip to Switzerland, stating that he would champion liberal calls for a filibuster, won praise from hard-line Web loggers and left-leaning activists, it prompted significant hand-wringing by party officials.

Democratic aides in the Senate said that many within the party were particularly surprised, since Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had asked his colleagues not to attempt a filibuster, arguing that the party would be better served by focusing on the GOP’s recent spate of ethics controversies and by trying to frame today’s State of the Union address in a favorable way for Democrats.

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