Monday, May 16, 2011

Still too early for Dems to give up on a Senate majority in 2012

I must admit that I'm pretty focused on the U.S. Senate races as we start to head into the 2012 election season. There is a lot of talk about things looking grim for the Democrats due in part to the fact that they have to defend 23 seats and the GOP only 10. The Democrats hold a 53 to 47 majority, so the Republicans would have to pick up only 4 seats to gain control, assuming they don't win the White House as the VP is the tie breaker, in which case they would only need 3.

I realize that we have been repeating this math a lot, if only because the Senate will be such an important part of the landscape next time, especially if the GOP retains the House and the Democrats hold the White House. Given too the, shall we say, tentative efforts the Republicans are making to field a credible candidate to challenge Obama, the Senate may be their best shot to claim victory in 2012.

As The New York Times wrote over the weekend:

Republicans are even trying to turn concerns about their uncertain prospects in the presidential race into an opportunity in the battle for Senate supremacy, arguing that a Senate takeover could fundamentally alter the balance of power in Washington even if Mr. Obama wins a second term. They are making the case to donors and voters that winning a Senate majority would give the party control over Congress and a unified front against the president if Republicans hold the House.

Not that we need more proof that Republicans are going to work like hell to win the Senate, but there you have it.

Now, despite the numbers game, a Republican majority in the upper chamber is hardly a done deal especially as they pursue an increasingly conservative agenda. The impact that Obama's reelection campaign will have on turnout also can't be ignored.

Add to that the fact that Democrats are going to go after some seats held by incumbent Republicans in places like Nevada and Indiana, not to mention Massachusetts, which is a seat Democrats really should hold.

There are all sorts of interesting dynamics that could play themselves out, like potential Tea Party challengers knocking off strong moderate Republican incumbents in Indiana and Maine, which might make Democrats more attractive to voters. Do the names Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell ring a bell?

As is so often true when assessing the electoral landscape, one has to look at things in terms of local dynamics. To the point, New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer commented in the Times story that "[i]f you look race by race in each state, I think we are in much better shape than you would have ever imagined."

Democrats are also saying that Republicans have failed to recruit top candidates in states where they should have a good chance, such as in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

As I said elsewhere, these are states with new Republican governors, who are having a very difficult time in the early going keeping their polling numbers up due to some pretty draconian measures. Add Florida and Wisconsin to this list of states with struggling new GOP governors and that might help strengthen the Democrats' hand. It certainly won't hurt.

And finally, incumbents are generally a pretty hardly lot and have all sorts of tricks available to help them win, so counting them out early is usually a mistake. Democrats Ben Nelson in Nebraska and Jon Tester in Montana are already being given up for dead, but we will see.

I know it's a little early to have a good grasp on what things will look like closer to election day, and we do like to speculate based on very little, but this thing ain't over. Not by a long shot. That's all I'm saying. And I'm not just whistlin' past the graveyard. No sir. But it will be tough.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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