Hulse: GOP Senate of 'Accidental Senators,' 'Fire-Breathing Conservatives,' While Dems Are 'Notable Lawmakers'

Congressional reporter Carl Hulse puts his thumb on the partisan seesaw: He sees the possibility of "a cadre of fire-breathing conservatives" coming to power in the Senate in November, much like the conservative "accidental senators" of 1980 that replaced Democratic "notable lawmakers."

As Republicans anticipate major gains in the November elections, congressional reporter Carl Hulse glimpsed an outside shot at the party winning back the U.S. Senate. But Hulse, a supporter of Democratic prerogatives, wasn't necessarily happy about it.

In his "Congressional Memo" on Sunday, "For Republicans, Could It Be '80 Deja Vu?", Hulse spotted a historical parallel - not between now and the Republican takeover of both House and Senate in 1994 - but 1980, when Senate Republicans gained 12 seats, and when, in Hulse's words, Democrat "notable lawmakers" were replaced by "accidental senators," much like 2010 threatens to bring in "fire-breathing conservatives."

The incumbent senator from Alaska is taken by surprise in a primary. A new conservative movement energizes Republicans in a furious response to a Democratic White House. Little-known insurgent candidates prepare to storm the Senate.

It is starting to feel like 1980.


In 1980, shocked Senate Democrats lost 12 seats in a rout that ended the Congressional careers of such notable lawmakers as George McGovern of South Dakota, Birch Bayh of Indiana, Frank Church of Idaho, Warren Magnuson of Washington and Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin.

Swept into office by the landslide victory of Ronald Reagan were a number of conservatives, including Jeremiah A. Denton Jr. of Alabama, Mack Mattingly of Georgia, Paula Hawkins of Florida, Steve Symms of Idaho and several others whose notion of the role of government and Congress was markedly different from those they succeeded.

They were labeled the "accidental senators," candidates who won only by virtue of an extraordinary political environment. The culture of the Senate - and party control - changed overnight.

"It was a very weird time," recalled Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who narrowly won a second term that year. "A lot of those people had no idea what they were doing."

While party strategists and analysts say Republicans still face a steep climb to gain the 10 seats needed to flip control of the Senate, polls and circumstances in contests around the country suggest it is not inconceivable that Republicans could seize the majority if crucial races uniformly break their way on Nov. 2.

If they do, it is a certainty that the new membership of the Senate would include sharply conservative Republicans with a deep skepticism of government and a determination to change Washington.


Given the prospect of a marked ideological shift in the Senate, some are already asking what the institution would be like upon the arrival of a cadre of fire-breathing conservatives.

Veteran reporter Hulse traditionally has shown a preference for the Democrat mode of governance, portraying conservative Republicans as inexperienced irresponsible usurpers.

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