Friday, July 22, 2005

What a Difference a Poll Makes

Less than three months ago, Senator Byrd led the pack in defending the unprecedented filibusters that Senate Democrats had mounted against many of President Bush's nominees for federal judgeships.

Then, a funny thing happened: the Charleston-based polling and PR firm RMS Strategies polled a potential US Senate contest between Byrd and Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito. This was an independent poll not done for any candidate, political party, or special interest group. The result: Byrd led 46-43. Keep in mind that Shelley is only considering running against Byrd and is rumored to still be a couple of months away from making a final decision. This was so bad that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee felt forced to respond by releasing their own poll that showed it was actually a 51-41 contest. To astute observers of West Virginia politics, even the Democratic poll spelled major trouble for Byrd, who has several times in his 6 elections to the US Senate carried all 55 counties, as he did in 2000 when he won 77% of the vote. Those of us who knew better thought that the Dems should have responded to the RMS poll by ignoring it and referring to the senator's past and consistent electoral performance. But by releasing their own poll showing the hypothetical matchup a real horse race, the DSCC destroyed the aura of invincibility that has long cloaked our senior senator.

Once Sheets found that he might be in the very real danger of breaking next year the records for both the longest-serving senator ever and the longest-serving senator to be defeated, the tune on his fiddle changed dramatically. Byrd joined the infamous Gang of 14 that brokered a deal to break the filibusters without invoking the constitutional option to end the filibuster of presidential nominees by a simple majority vote. Now, we hear lavish praise for the selection of Judge John Roberts for the Supreme Court. Today's Washington Times has a story on Byrd's turnaround from Bush basher in chief to a chief Democratic advocate of confirming Judge Roberts to be the 109th associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.