Vulnerable senators broke in favor of bailout package

Two days after most of their House counterparts chose political survival over a $700 billion bailout package, Senate incumbents fighting for their political lives broke in favor of their chamber’s version of the bill Wednesday night.

And, with few exceptions, their opponents moved to capitalize almost instantly, jamming an anti-Washington and anti-Wall Street wedge between incumbent and challenger in many top races around the country.

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Oregon state House Speaker Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick Democratic senators condemn Trump for calling on China to investigate Bidens MORE (D) denounced the package and Sen. Gordon Smith’s (R-Ore.) vote in favor of it within minutes of the vote.

In a charge echoed by several other challengers, Merkley said: “This is what they do in Washington: They take a bad proposal and add $150 billion of sweeteners to satisfy enough people.

“The crisis on Wall Street and the need for a bailout is an indictment of the failed economic policies of Gordon Smith and George Bush.”

Smith shot back pre-emptively, issuing a statement through his campaign committee before the vote saying Merkley “has shamefully placed his partisan ambitions ahead of the retirement, financial and economic security of the people he seeks to serve and once again has demonstrated his willingness to leave Oregon’s rural communities behind.”

On Wednesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) moved to flip the issue on its head by launching an ad likening Merkley’s tenure as Oregon state House Speaker to Washington’s borrow-happy ways.

Merkley had previously used his ads to hit Smith on the bailout.

Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), John Sununu (R-N.H.), Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Republicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' MORE (R-Ga.), John CornynJohn CornynTrump slams 'very dumb' O'Rourke for proposals on guns, tax exempt status for churches GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Succession at DHS up in the air as Trump set to nominate new head MORE (R-Texas) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) also voted for the measure, only to see their opponents oppose it and turn it into a campaign issue a month before Election Day.

Those five and Smith were joined by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (R-Maine), Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhite House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours The Memo: Trump's sea of troubles deepens McConnell: Trump's troop pull back in Syria a 'grave strategic mistake' MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) in voting for the package.

Collins’s opponent, Rep. Tom Allen (D), also voted for the bailout in the House on Monday.

Voting against the package were Sens. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump declares 'case closed' as text messages raise new questions Top House Democrat: Trump did 'on camera' what Romney warned about MORE (R-Okla.), Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonTrump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul Several hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation MORE (D-S.D.), Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world MORE (D-La.), Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsJeffress dismisses evangelical opposition to Trump's Syria decision: Not one will 'switch their vote' Overnight Defense: Trump defends Turkey amid fierce criticism | Senators demand briefing on Syria decision | Turkey confirms strikes on Syrian border | White House says it won't cooperate on impeachment inquiry Pat Robertson 'absolutely appalled' by Trump's Syria announcement MORE (R-Kan.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg defends handling of misinformation in political ads | Biden camp hits Zuckerberg over remarks | Dem bill would jail tech execs for lying about privacy | Consumer safety agency accidentally disclosed personal data Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (R-Miss.).

All of their opponents except Johnsons’s have said they would have voted no, as well. Dole, Landrieu and Wicker face the strongest challenges in that group.

On Monday, only about one in four of the most vulnerable members of the House voted for the measure.

While in that chamber both sides were feverishly whipping before the package failed by 12 votes, senators seeking political cover Wednesday had plenty of wiggle room to vote with their reelection hopes, with the final tally at 74-25.

On Thursday, senators milling around the chamber expressed significant surprise at the fact that so many votes in favor of the bill came from senators who are up for reelection.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who is not up, said mail from his constituents — like those of many other senators — was running heavily against the bill.

{mospagebreak}“It was a courageous vote for those who are running, and maybe for all of us,” Nelson said. “But it was also so important to be right, and that had to trump taking the safe way out.”

Regardless of how politically safe their yes votes were, Smith wasn’t the only senator looking to head off the attacks at their source.

Coleman’s campaign noted early Thursday that Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDeVos calls Democratic presidential hopeful's education plans 'crazy' Senate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE and Democratic presidential nominee Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEven with likely Trump impeachment, Democrats face uphill climb to win presidency Clinton suggests Russia grooming Gabbard to run as third-party 2020 candidate The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington mourns loss of Elijah Cummings MORE both voted for the bill that his Democratic opponent, Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenTake Trump literally and seriously in Minnesota Ninth woman accuses Al Franken of inappropriate contact Al Franken to host SiriusXM radio show MORE, was denouncing.

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Franken’s campaign noted that he wasn’t begrudging those who supported the bill, but instead stating what he would have fought for in the bill.

Cornyn sent his supporters a long letter in the hours before he was to cast his vote, seeking to commiserate with them. In the letter, he said the Bush administration “mishandled early communications on this plan.”

“I know many of you are extremely upset about the idea of the government doing any type of bailout for Wall Street, and I completely agree with you,” Cornyn assured, before detailing his case for the yes vote.

Wicker also sent out a statement in anticipation of his difficult “no” vote. In a hallway interview beforehand, he said his mind was made up.

“I don’t think the sky is falling to the extent where we can skip hearings, amendments, regular order and due consideration,” he said.

But other senators who voted against the bailout bill kept their opinions to themselves, even as they were going into the chamber.

Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowPoll shows Sen. Gary Peters with slim lead over GOP rival in Michigan Republican challenger to Gary Peters in Michigan raises over million USDA nixes release of multiple reports over researcher exodus MORE, who is not up for reelection this year, split with her Michigan Democratic colleague, Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinRemembering leaders who put country above party Strange bedfellows oppose the filibuster Listen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home MORE, to oppose the bill at the last minute.

“You’ll find out in a minute,” Stabenow told a reporter who asked about her stance as she was on her way onto the Senate floor.

Among those who are running for a Senate seat this year, the two House members running for New Mexico’s open seat both voted against their version of the bailout Monday, as did Colorado open-seat hopeful Rep. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallPoll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down MORE (D-Colo.).