Former South Dakota Sen. Larry Pressler, running for office again as an independent.

A Republican Senate? Alaska, SD and Montana Could Provide the Answer

Mark Trahant

Is it a foregone conclusion that the Senate will go Republican in November? That’s the talk coming from many strategists in both parties lately.

On Fox News Sunday, Karl Rove said it’s “highly likely” that the Republicans take power. He said seven seats could shift to the GOP control in November, Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, North Carolina and West Virginia. That’s one more than the Republicans need.

Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, on NBC’s Meet the Press, is saying something similar. “There’s a real, real danger that the Democrats could suffer big losses,” he said. (Current White House officials are saying — as they should — that Democrats will hang to the Senate.)Mark Trahant

What’s pushing this speculation is a special election last week in Florida. It’s not that Democrats lost (it was a Republican seat, anyway). It’s that Democrats didn’t turn out. If that happens again in November, then Republicans win easily.

One of the states in play, Montana, is a good example of the problem.

There are a higher percentage of American Indian voters in Montana than in any other state except New Mexico, a registration that tops 64 percent (a slightly higher percentage than white voters in Montana). This made a difference two years ago when Sen. Jon Tester and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau both won re-election. But two years before that, those same voters disappeared. Conservative candidates won easily.

So is 2014 more like 2012 or 2010? Will Native American voters show up?

Montana is raising questions for other reasons, too. Senate candidate Steve Daines, a member of the House, has visited the state’s reservations and is making his case with tribal leaders.

There is also a difference of opinion in Montana over strategy. As Stephanie Woodard wrote in Indian Country Today Media Network, a voter access organization, Four Directions, blames Democrats for not expanding satellite balloting on the reservation.

RELATED: The Democratic Party’s Indian Problem (And Guess Who’s Next?)

The good news is that it’s early. There are months ahead to sort out a Native vote strategy and engage voters. But right now, Montana Senate race is looking like a pick up opportunity for the Republicans.

“If we lose the Senate,” Gibbs said, “turn out the lights. The party’s over.” The final two years of the Obama presidency will be one of defense, limiting the damage, instead of promoting any sort of agenda of growth.

For Indian country that means more budget cuts, GOP leadership for the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, and more whittling away of the Affordable Care Act.

That will not be a good scenario for the Indian health system. The Republican plan on health care is not fully developed yet, but don’t expect it to even address the Indian health system. The Affordable Care Act, as complicated as it is, at least leaves open a path to more money for an underfunded system. The IHS is not on the GOP agenda, but more budget cuts are.

Another “pickup” state on Rove’s list is Alaska. Here Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election.


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stevef's picture
Submitted by stevef on
Is there hope that the Obama dictatorship could be stifled? I don't hold my breath. I think he would just continue to drop more 'executive edicts' on us. But, there is a glimmer of hope that there is enough votes to reverse the ObamaCare act! I especially like that the skins are contributing to congress on both sides of the fence. It would be nice to have a stronger voice in congress with persons who have a stronger understanding of what it is to be skin! Steve