As Al Franken gains in the Minnesota recount and the Georgia senate runoff heats up, it's easy to assume that math -- in other words, the slog to 60 seats -- is the principal factor in whether Democrats can push their agenda through the Senate.
But since the Senate conferences are so fluid at the edges -- Maine Republican Olympia Snowe might have more in common with Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson than she does with Mitch McConnell -- party discipline matters a great deal, too. Long-suffering Republicans are getting grumpier about their string of losses, and infighting among conservatives and the leadership within the Senate Republican conference could further diminish their power in 2009. Roll Call has the details:
In the wake of this month’s electoral defeats, Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) staked out an aggressive and even antagonistic position on where he thought his Republican Party should go. He immediately sought a series of changes to how Senate Republicans operate, called for a return to strict conservative values and began issuing not-so-veiled threats to fellow Senators who didn’t join his crusade. But instead of igniting a conservative revolution, DeMint has suddenly found himself on the outside looking in — following what GOP sources said was an angry rebuke of his reform demands from party elders during Tuesday’s closed-door Conference meeting.
... Republicans privately complained that DeMint’s attacks against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other leaders in the days after the election were not helpful. DeMint made veiled threats that he would work to put his leaders out of power if they did not help push the party back toward a more strictly conservative Conference. In a statement released following the election, DeMint warned that “a change of command at the highest levels of our current leaders” would be needed if the party continued to follow what he termed a “Democrat light” strategy.