Five new senators could be deal-brokers

Greg Nash

The party that holds the Senate majority is about to change but one thing will stay the same: Come January, Republicans won’t be any closer to a filibuster-proof 60-vote supermajority than Democrats are right now.

Republicans picked up at least seven seats on election night. But even if two more incumbent Democrats fall in currently undecided races in Alaska and Louisiana, Republicans will only have 54 votes.

If deals are to get done, some senators are going to have to lead the way toward agreement.

{mosads}There are some likely contenders to do so among the people who were elected to the upper chamber on Tuesday.

– Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a popular former governor, was able to defeat challengers from all across the political spectrum. The four-way race pitted Rounds against two other Republicans — former Sen. Larry Pressler, who ran as an independent, and conservative former state Sen. Gordon Howie. Rounds came out well ahead of both, partly by touting his bipartisan work as governor, where he made investments in higher education.

Other former governors who became senators, such as Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), have a strong track record on negotiating bipartisan deals. Rounds served as a member of the Governors’ Council at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

– Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) is the first woman West Virginia has ever elected to the Senate. Capito is fervently conservative on environmental matters, so it remains to be seen whether she will follow in the footsteps of other female senators who have proven to be effective bipartisan voices.

The obstacles are formidable. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) retired last year after saying it had become too difficult to broker bipartisan deals in the hyper-partisan Senate.

But Capito at least has some useful experiences to draw on: In her seven terms in the House, she managed to draft dozens of bipartisan bills, including some that increased funding for cancer prevention research.

 – It’s hard to know which Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) will show up in the Senate next year. Gardner was elected to the House in 2010 on the Tea Party wave. He was once ranked the 10th most conservative House member, but when running for Senate he backed away from the most conservative stances he had previously held on issues such as abortion. That, in turn, helped him to succeed in the purple state of Colorado — attempts by Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall to tie him to a purported GOP “war on women” failed to gain traction. Gardner could also help move the Republican Senate closer to the center on environmental issues, as his state is heavily affected by climate change and water conservation. 

 – Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) made headlines hours after winning his Senate bid by saying he wanted to work with Democrats to make campaign funding and advertising more transparent. He has reason to pursue the issue. Tillis’ tough race against incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) quickly turned negative, with dozens of outside groups flooding local TV markets with ads. It was the most expensive campaign this cycle, with more than $110 million spent. The former Speaker of North Carolina’s state House spent his first two years in that body as a member of the minority party. He has said the experience forced him to learn how to work with Democrats. Tillis has vowed to reach across the aisle in the Senate. 

 – Gary Peters (D-Mich.) has big shoes to fill as he replaces retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). Levin was known for his deal-making skills, most prominently displayed when he shepherded the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to passage every year. Although Peters won’t have that kind of power while in the minority, he will be motivated to make a name for himself so that he can step out of Levin’s large, looming shadow. During his three terms in the House, Peters proved he could work with Republicans to get things done. Despite being in the minority in the House last year, Peters was able to get an amendment passed prohibiting federal contractors from using funds for first class travel.

Tags Carl Levin Cory Gardner Joe Manchin Kay Hagan Lamar Alexander Mark Udall Shelley Moore Capito

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