With Eye on '12, McCaskill and Nelson Back Earmark Ban
Updated, 6 p.m.
Only seven Democrats voted for the earmark moratorium in the Senate on Tuesday, including two who are likely looking ahead to their 2012 re-election bids.
Of the 23 members of the Democratic caucus who are up for re-election in 2012, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) supported the ban.
Their votes show that they are guarding their right flank on spending for their next campaigns. Spending -- and the national debt -- has become a dominant political issue in both Missouri and Florida, both of which look more red after the election results this year.
For McCaskill, the vote is not a sudden move to the center. McCaskill has a record of campaigning against earmarks and excessive government spending, dating back to when she was elected in 2006 -- a position that has been popular in Missouri. In fact, she has never requested an earmark and has supported banning them.
As we have noted previously, the earmark moratorium has become a rallying cry of sorts among the Tea Party segment of the Republican Party -- so much so that it caused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reverse his previous support for earmarks. Several Republicans who could be vulnerable to a primary challenge from the right in 2012 -- like Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) -- announced their support of the moratorium despite having sought millions in earmarks over the course of their careers.
But McCaskill and Nelson's votes show that the concern on the issue is also creeping across the aisle. Both McCaskill and Nelson have already seen challengers emerge, with Rep. Connie Mack IV (R) taking steps toward running in Florida and former state Treas. Sarah Steelman (R) and former Sen. Jim Talent (R) considering runs against McCaskill.
Notably, several Democrats who face the prospect of tough races in 2012 voted against the earmark ban -- further highlighting McCaskill and Nelson's votes. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) all voted against the moratorium.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who has been ambivalent about whether he will seek re-election in 2012, also cast a vote against the ban -- even though his Virginia counterpart, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) supported it.