Is Obama a boon for Republicans?

Barack Obama has raided the heavily-Democratic Senate and governors for a record number of his appointments, and USA Today sees an opening for Republicans.  In 2010, the appointed replacements for these positions will have to stand for special elections in a midterm that already holds some promise for Republicans.  But can they make up the ground lost over the last two elections with voters?

Obama’s incoming administration would open vacancies in seven states, more than each of the past two presidents. His picks could put a Republican in the Arizona governor’s seat and create other competitive races in the elections in 2010, including in his home state of Illinois. …

Obama has rapidly named his Cabinet and many top agency positions this month before the inauguration Jan. 20. Five of his picks are governors or members of Congress — all Democrats — who have time left in their terms.

If confirmed, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will serve as secretary of State, and Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado will lead the Department of Interior. In addition to Napolitano, Obama tapped Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico to lead the Commerce Department. The Associated Press reported Thursday that Obama will announce Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., to head the Department of Labor.

Colorado voters elected Salazar to the Senate in 2004, and they chose Democrat Mark Udall to fill the state’s other Senate seat this year. Colorado’s Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, will name a replacement to serve out Salazar’s term through 2010.

Janet Napolitano’s appointment puts Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer in Napolitano’s spot automatically.  The state normally elects Republicans anyway, and Brewer would have two years to cement her status as incumbent and take advantage of that position.  John McCain will run for his Senate seat in the same year and could help keep Brewer in office as governor, forcing the Democrats to retreat on a key interior West state.

Chris Cillizza has bad news for incumbent appointees in the Senate, though:

A look back at Senate appointments made over the past 50 years shows a decidedly mixed electoral record. Of the 51 Senators who sought a full term in their own right, just 23 (45 percent) won their races. (Twenty one appointed Senators did not seek election to their appointed post.)

While the last three appointed senators — Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), John Barrasso (R-Wy.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) — were elected in the next cycle, there also have been high profile losses by appointed senators in recent years including the defeats of Sens. Bob Krueger (D-Texas), Sheila Frahm (R-Kan.), and Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.).

It’s always helpful to keep that history in mind when considering the races to come in New York, Delaware and Colorado (and possibly Illinois) where appointed senators will be faced with a decision on whether to seek election or step aside.

What’s clear is that no matter what they decide (Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman in Delaware has already said he will not seek a full term), none of the appointed senators — yes, even you Caroline Kennedy — can be assured of an easy election in 2010.

Appointed incumbents may face the same buzzsaw in 2010 as the rest of the Democrats, without having the advantage of actually winning the office through election once.  If the post-Election Day contests for Congress give any indication, the Democrats will struggle with Barack Obama off the ticket.  Combine that with unpopular bailouts continuing in an Obama administration and what looks like a long economic slump, and you have the recipe for a housecleaning in the midterms.

In order for that to take place, however, Republicans have to offer real and positive alternatives to the Obama agenda.  They need to rebuild their credibility as a small-government party and start focusing on uniting the GOP around core values rather than fight each other on every possible front.  First and foremost, we have to prepare an economic agenda that promotes investment and growth as solutions that will benefit all Americans and stop the massive government interventions in markets that have brought us to this pass.

If Republicans can manage that, they may have a very good 2010 and force Obama even further towards the center.  If not, there won’t be much difference between electing Republicans or Democrats anyway, and the entire question will be moot.