Everyone in the Senate is getting along just fine — for now. Next year, however, the traditional civility will be tested with control of the chamber up for grabs.
Split-party Senate delegations, particularly those where the relationship between a state’s two Senators is testy to nominal at best, could face the added pressure of a heated 2012 election season as the Senator not on the ballot hits the campaign trail and works behind the scenes to defeat the one who is. This election-year dynamic is typical, but it could hold more significance in a chamber where Democrats’ four-seat majority is in jeopardy.
Interviews last week with a half-dozen Senators positioned to be on the attacking end confirmed that they intend to be active in supporting their party’s nominee against their state colleague. Members were hesitant to telegraph plans at this early stage of the cycle and said much depends on who wins their party’s nomination and the flow of the campaign as it unfolds. Still, none argued that Senate civility would preclude becoming involved where appropriate.
“I’ll support the nominee and I’ll do that actively,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R) said when asked what role he will play in trying to defeat fellow Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D). “At the same time, I’m going to do my best to work with Sen. McCaskill on the things that we can agree on. My view is that 2011 is best spent finding the things we can agree on — and there will be a number of them — and 2012 being very straightforward about the things we don’t agree on. There will be a number of those things as well. We’ll have a good nominee. Missouri’s a competitive state, and I’ll be helping that nominee.”
Blunt and McCaskill have been players in Missouri politics for several years and were familiar with each other before Blunt landed in the Senate this year. Though not particularly close, the Senators described their relationship as cordial and professionally productive. McCaskill, who lost a 2004 gubernatorial bid to Blunt’s son, was not surprised to hear that her Senate colleague would be working against her in 2012.
“I don’t know how active Roy will be. I imagine in the election season I would expect to see him campaigning for a Republican nominee,” McCaskill said. “I think it would be naive of me to think that he wouldn’t be campaigning for the Republican nominee.”
At least eight targeted Senate races feature Members in split-party delegations. Most in this group are Democrats, and most are running in either decidedly conservative states or swing states. But a few are Republicans, including Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), who serves with Sen. John Kerry (D), and Sen. John Ensign, although the Nevadan is not assured of emerging from his state’s primary. He serves with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D).