Thursday night's set-to between vice presidential candidates Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney turned out to be the set-to that wasn't. By tradition, the veep debates are the ones where the fur really flies. But this one was remarkably civil. Yes, Dick Cheney has a habit of talking into his hands. He seldom talked to the camera, as Lieberman consistently did. But his command and expertise were a welcome reminder that Republican candidates for high office don't have to be bumbling dolts. Joe Lieberman did fine. But people expected him to. Dick Cheney showed he can be affable and intelligent.
The end result: Cheney won, but the loser wasn't Joe Lieberman. It was George W. Bush.
Viewers had to come out of the debate thinking well of Dick Cheney as a man, regardless of what you think about his politics. But that's not what Republicans needed. They needed Cheney to take the fight to Al Gore, something he conspicuously neglected to do. That would have made Cheney look like an attack dog. And it wouldn't have done him any good. But it might have helped his boss. And that's what veeps are supposed to do.
No one thought first term Minnesota Senator Rod Grams was going to have any easy time getting a second term this year. Grams is one of those GOP Senators who just squeaked by in the Republican year of 1994, and whom Democrats have been dying to get another swing at ever since. Some other good examples are Republicans Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania and Spence Abraham in Michigan. Minnesota Republicans were cheered when the Democrats nominated Mark Dayton because the conventional wisdom was that he'd be the easiest Democrat to beat. Still, no one thought it'd be easy for Grams. But few thought Grams would be doing this badly.
Generally, an incumbent senator is in trouble if he polls consistently short of 50 percent, even if he's leading his opponent. But a Mason-Dixon Poll from late September showed Dayton beating Grams 45 percent to 41 percent, with Reform party candidate James Gibson with 4 percent. Even more troubling for Grams' supporters, a Minneapolis Star Tribune poll released at the end of the month (albeit a poll of "adults") gave Dayton a lead of 49 percent to 35 percent.
Those numbers mean that barring some unforeseen development, Grams is finished.
The Hill's Allison Stevens writes that some pollsters (GOP pollsters) are starting to wonder if the GOP can hold the House and lose the Senate. It's an intriguing possibility and a surprising one; but it's not that unlikely. There are a number of Senate seats the Democrats could lose this time around, certainly. Think of Chuck Robb in Virginia. But there are also a number of Democrats pulling away from their opponents as in New York and Florida. More important though, as the election has gone on, there are more and more Republican incumbents who, though more likely than not to win, are in very tight races. If Senator Slade Gorton of Washington gets unseated by Real Networks mini-mogul Maria Cantwell on November 7th, Senate Republicans could be in a for a long, long night.