Sunday, May 15, 2011

All eyes will be on the newly open Wisconsin senate seat in 2012

By Richard K. Barry 

It's getter harder and harder to contemplate how the Democrats hold onto the Senate in 2012. As we have been saying over and over again, 33 seats are up for grabs. 21 of these are Democratic seats (two additional independents caucus with the Dems) and, of course, only 10 are GOP seats.

On Friday, Herbert Kohl, Democratic senator from Wisconsin, announced that he would not be seeking reelection in 2012, which probably pushes this one into the "toss-up" category. That at least is where the Cook Political Report now has it.

No sure thing in politics, but Kohl got 67% of the vote when he last ran in 2006, which was his fourth win in a row so his reelection wouldn't have been a bad place to put your money.

So here we go. Kohl is the fifth Democrat to announce that he was not running again. The others are Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jim Webb of Virgina. Joe Lieberman is one of the aforementioned independents, who caucuses with the Democrats, who is not running.

One of the possible Democratic candidates that has to come to mind is Russ Feingold, who had been a senator from Wisconsin from 1993 to 2011 before being defeated by Republican Ron Johnson in the 2010 election by a margin of 52% to 47%.

For the moment, Feingold is taking things slow, but pressure will no doubt build as Democrats try to figure out how they hold the seat. In any case, there will be no shortage of interested candidates.

On the other side of the aisle, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan is already considering making a run for the vacant seat. In some classic "political speak" he said he is going to:

take some time over the next few days to discuss the news with my family and supporters before making a decision about how I'm best able to serve my employers in the First Congressional District, our state and our nation.

Translation is that he will be burning up the phone lines to make sure he can raise the money needed to win, maybe do some polling to see how he's doing statewide, and otherwise get a read on how good his chances of victory might be.

This will be interesting, though, if Ryan runs and gets the nomination. Gov. Scott Walker's assault on public-sector unions has already guaranteed that there will be a national focus on Wisconsin come 2012. Ryan's budget with its radical plan to end Medicare as we know it will surely put more focus on him regardless. His entry into the senate race would only add fuel to the fire that Democrats are likely to stoke from now until election day. I think that might work for the Democrats, actually. I can't imagine that a lot of Republicans are going to want to see a high profile senate race in Wisconsin with a debate about Medicare constantly on the front pages of national newspapers and in other media.

Herbert Kohl is 76 years old and I doubt that his decision to step aside reflects any concerns on his part that the seat can't be held. My guess is that if the Democrats are in any shape at all in 2012 and Obama is running the kind of campaign we know he can run, they should be okay. That's a lot of "ifs" but that's where my money is today.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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