In Kansas, Democrats persuaded their Senate candidate, Chad Taylor, to drop out of the race against incumbent Republican Pat Roberts. Mr. Taylor was running third in polls behind Mr. Roberts and independent Greg Orman. Soon after Mr. Taylor’s early-September withdrawal, Democratic lawyers went to court to keep his name off the ballot.
In Montana, after Democratic Sen. Max Baucus announced that he would not seek re-election in 2014, Democrats feared that an open seat would be an easy win for Republican Steve Daines. So Mr. Baucus resigned and went to China as U.S. ambassador. Lt. Gov. John Walsh was appointed senator. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, pressured another Democrat to drop out and allow Mr. Walsh to win the primary without a challenger. Mr. Walsh later quit the race in a plagiarism scandal.
All that maneuvering only begins to suggest the lengths to which Democrats are going to retain control of the Senate in the midterm election on Nov. 4. Candidate switches have happened before. Democrats replaced New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli, who had won the primary, with Frank Lautenberg as their candidate in 2002. But that pales next to Democratic machinations in 2014.
Republicans aren’t above ruthless tactics, but in 40 years of covering national elections I’ve never seen anything like the extraordinary efforts of Democrats to prevent Republicans from picking up the six seats to gain Senate control.
Mr. Reid is the leading architect of the Democratic campaign and its unprecedented tactics. He has sought to protect incumbent Democrats from votes that might imperil their re-election. And he is determined to keep Republicans from demonstrating that they’re not opposed to every Democratic initiative. To manage this, he has slowed Senate business to a near halt.
While TV ads with spurious claims are a regular feature of campaigns, they have become a Democratic specialty this year. In Arkansas, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor aired a 30-second spot that accused Rep. Tom Cotton, his Republican challenger, of having “voted against preparing America for pandemics like Ebola.” The ad didn’t mention that once a provision Mr. Cotton opposed was removed, he voted for the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act.
Several ads that earned “four Pinocchios “—that is, deemed to be false—from Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler were produced by Mr. Reid’s Senate Majority PAC. It has spent $26.2 million this year and reserved another $14.8 million in TV time. Mitch McConnell , the Senate Republican leader, doesn’t have a Super PAC.
A series of Reid PAC ads zinging Rep. Bill Cassidy in Louisiana were fodder for Mr. Kessler’s fact-frisking. He called one that said Mr. Cassidy, who is running against Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu , had opposed flood-insurance legislation and hurricane relief as “nonsensical” and “deceptive” and “an effort to completely mislead voters.” An ad claiming that Mr. Cassidy had argued for “automatic ObamaCare registration” was full of “audaciously false claims.” Still another ad said Mr. McConnell had voted to “raise his own pay four times,” but neglected to cite Mr. McConnell’s opposition to automatic increases and pay hikes in 2011, 2012 and 2013, Mr. Kessler noted.
Only one ad in a Senate race has been pulled off the air. It came from Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska and faulted Republican challenger Dan Sullivan, a former prosecutor, for letting a vicious criminal get a light sentence. The Ebola ad in Arkansas drew furious complaints from the Cotton camp but remained on the air until its cycle ended.
The Senate Majority PAC has also pioneered the tactic of intervening in Republican primaries to attack candidates that Democrats fear the most or want to tarnish as early as possible. Mr. Reid’s group pounced on Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Mr. Sullivan in Alaska. Both won their Senate primaries. And the Senate Majority PAC ran a heavy load of ads last spring against Mr. Cotton, who didn’t have a primary foe.
In setting a presidential record for fundraisers, President Obama has boosted Democratic campaigns substantially. He has spoken at 25 events for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and two for the Senate Majority PAC. Republicans have estimated that the haul from donors exceeds $40 million. Mr. Obama even squeezed at least one fundraiser into his schedule during three days at the United Nations last week.
As majority leader, Mr. Reid has shamelessly manipulated the Senate to Democratic advantage. He blocked an up-or-down vote on the Keystone XL pipeline and on repeal of ObamaCare’s medical-devices tax. He split the American Jobs Act, which Mr. Obama had touted in a speech to Congress, into individual parts. To pay for it, Mr. Reid added tax increases, including the Buffett tax with its 30% minimum income-tax rate on millionaires. This insured that Republican opposition would kill the bill and thus Democrats could trumpet their favorite theme: Republicans blocked legislation to save their rich friends from higher taxes.
When bipartisan curbs on the Environmental Protection Agency’s anti-coal regulations were under consideration in June, Mr. Reid shut down the process in committee. He held what was called an “all-night filibuster” on the Senate floor. It was pure issue advocacy without a bill to vote on.
The Reid strategy has made it impossible for Republicans to point to bipartisan victories in the Senate. But this has backfired against Democrats, especially those seeking re-election in red states. In sidelining popular bills, Mr. Reid has given Democrats no achievements to brag about. In six years, Mr. Begich failed to get a vote on a single amendment he proposed.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, was co-sponsor of a well-regarded energy-efficiency bill with Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. When Republicans in May sought amendments to vote on the Keystone XL pipeline and approve export of natural gas, Mr. Reid pulled the bill from the Senate floor. Ms. Shaheen was left empty-handed. She is now in a close re-election race with Republican Scott Brown .
Democrats in red states would have benefited from voting for the pipeline and the energy bill and against the medical-devices tax. Mr. Reid wouldn’t let them, if only because passing bipartisan measures might have given Republicans a few useful talking points.
The efforts of Mr. Reid, President Obama and Democrats may save the party a Senate seat or two. If that occurs, their stratagems will be copied again and again, and we’ll have to brace ourselves for the worst in campaigns to come. If it fails, be thankful.
Mr. Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, is a Fox News commentator.