But now, with Specter switching teams and Democrats about to have 60 seats after Minnesota Democrat Al Franken is seated, Lincoln cant count on the GOP restraining the Democratic majority. She and her more moderate allies in the Democratic Conference from Nebraskas Ben Nelson to Louisianas Mary Landrieu and even Indianas Evan Bayh will have to be the ones who restrain their colleagues, if they have the political will.
This is also likely to be true for dozens of House Democrats who were elected from Southern and rural districts, and who will now be expected by their constituents to be more active in blocking higher taxes, bigger deficits and government expansion.
While those Democrats are still free to vote against their party thereby establishing their independence and moderation they also must know that their political standing back home rests as much on what their party does on Capitol Hill as how they vote as individual legislators.
For Lincoln, for example, voting against big-ticket, big-government Democratic initiatives may not be enough to inoculate her against Republican attacks blaming her party for the countrys direction.
Indeed, this is exactly what happened to Republicans across the country the past two cycles, in swing districts that were both Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning. Many Republicans, such as then-Sens. Jim Talent (Mo.), Mike DeWine (Ohio) and Gordon Smith (Ore.) and then-Reps. Christopher Shays (Conn.), Rob Simmons (Conn.) and Nancy Johnson (Conn.), lost not because voters were particularly angry with them, but because voters were unhappy and angry with Washington and the GOP.
The good news for Republicans now is that Democrats own everything, giving greater salience to the GOP argument that voters (and contributors) need to support Republican candidates and the partys campaign committees so that Democrats dont have a blank check.
Specters switch may also embolden Democrats in the nations capital to move further left than what the country is comfortable with, causing a voter backlash and internal party fissures. This could, in turn, bring a new focus by the media on differences within the Democratic Party rather than on differences between the two parties.
Democrats have every reason to be euphoric about Specters switch, but at the end of the day, it may not be the game changer that they hope. For grass-roots Republicans, Specters switch ought not be an opportunity to celebrate, but rather, a time to consider the partys stunning demise.
James Jones, communications director for DC Vote, tapes a "DC Constituents Service Day" sign on the wall as he stands with other DC residents outside of Rep. Andy Harris's office on Capitol Hill to protest Harris' actions against D.C.'s marijuana laws on Thursday, July 24, 2014. DC Vote encouraged DC residents to bring their complaints about city services to the Maryland congressman.