The Iraq Debate Begins

| Mon Feb. 5, 2007 2:08 PM EST

The Senate debate that begins this afternoon is not quite what it seems to be. The resolution is non-binding, and the president's surge already is in full swing. If the Senate votes against Bush, the president can always turn around and say, "Big Deal. I am the commander-in-chief. Go screw yourselves!" And if the surge succeeds, which seems hard to believe, then the president is off the hook.

But if the Senate comes down against the president and the Bush surge flops, then the president will walk the plank. He will be without any credibility as will those Republicans who supported him. So the full import of this vote may be several months off, maybe even 6 months away, dragging Iraq into the middle of the presidential campaign.

The debate takes place against the backdrop of the presidential election and, much less discussed but crucially important for Democratic control of congress, the re-election of 33 members of the Senate. Of that total Republicans are defending 21, the Dems a dozen. A CQ Weekly analysis finds the GOP in danger of losing 6 seats, with the Dems in danger in two states -- Louisiana and South Dakota.

The Dem margin of control is so thin, the two danger spots must be taken seriously. One involveas Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, which she has held with narrow margins. People have left New Orleans which could effect the vote in unknown ways. In South Dakota, Tim Johnson won election in 2002 by 524 votes. He has not fully recovered from his recent brain hemmorrage, and his future seems problematic.

On the other hand, there are any number of Republican senators teetering on the brink: Such moderate Republicans as Maine's Susan Collins and New Hampshire's John Sununu could go down in a Democratic blitz. Wayne Allard is retiring in Colorado and CQ thinks the Dems there could pick up that seat. Dems eye Libby Dole in North Carolina and Gordon Smith in Oregon. And then there is always Al Franken's bid in Minnesota.