Defending Republican Senate Seats in 2012

     The 2012 Senate races will present a unique opportunity for Republicans to take the upper chamber and, assuming Obama was to win the Presidency- not a given if one looks at his numbers, make life for Obama even more difficult.  This is a very real possibility especially if the trends we saw in the 2010 midterms follow through into 2012.  Again, although a lot can change between now and then, should Obama’s numbers remain weak, some prognosticators are predicting the possibility of a filibuster proof Senate for the Republicans.  That is, the coattails of a Republican Presidential victor would be large.  Of course, that is the ideal and would translate into saying goodbye to Obamacare.

     But before Republicans can play offense, there is still some defensive work to be done.  There are ten Republican seats up for grabs.  Among them, three incumbents are retiring- Kyl in Arizona, Ensign in Nevada, and Hutchison in Texas.  Of the ten seats, one can reasonably state that at this point, five of them are safe.  Roger Wicker in Mississippi, Corker in Tennessee, Barasso in Wyoming are three incumbents who should win handily and not attract any strong primary opponents or challenges.  One of the other states is Orrin Hatch’s seat in Utah where many conservatives in a very conservative state have problems with Hatch.  As Bennett found out in 2010, playing footsies with the opposition can have serious ramifications for future employment.  Bennett was well-respected among his DC colleagues, which may have been a problem from the start.  After the state convention, he could not garner enough votes to even get on the primary ballot.  The same dynamics may be at work in 2012 with Hatch as the target this time.  But before Republicans start decrying an intraparty feud in Utah, it must be remembered that Utah is a red state.  That is, even if Hatch is seriously challenged at the convention or primary level, should he survive alive but scathed, he will be the eventual winner.  If he should not prevail, the eventual winner in the Republican Party will win the general election.  I simply cannot see a Democratic Senator from Utah in 2012.  The only possibility- and it would be a remote possibility- is if Congressman Tim Matheson decided to vacate his seat and run for the Senate, although there are no implications this will occur.  The greatest threat to Hatch’s candidacy is in his own party.  A serious challenge by someone like Rep. Jason Chaffetz may result in a Chaffetz victory and he would still beat any Democrat in Utah.  In Texas, Hutchison is retiring, but this state is sufficiently red that one can almost be assured it will remain in Republican hands.  Several names have been bandied about on both sides, but with Obama’s approval ratings below the national average in the Lone Star state, the race has to lean towards a Republican victory.

     The remaining Republican seats are those of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Olympia Snowe in Maine, Dick Lugar in Indiana, John Kyl in Arizona (retiring) and John Ensign (retiring) in Nevada.  First, Scott Brown.  Of all the seats to defend, this will be potentially the most difficult because when push comes to shove, there is no doubt Massachusetts is a deeply blue state despite Brown’s special election victory in 2010.  His election came about because of a perfect storm of political events.  This was perhaps one of the Tea Party’s shining moments and they take lots of credit for getting Brown as elected as the one vote to deny a vote on Obamacare.  However since then, some of Brown’s votes in the Senate have drawn the ire of those who got him elected originally.  But, here is the conundrum: if not Brown, then who for the Republican Party in Massachusetts?  Meanwhile, the possibility of Democratic heavy-hitters with name recognition in the state entering the race to challenge Brown is a long list, although no declared candidates yet.  Four current Representatives have been mentioned- Nikki Tsongas, Michael Capuano, Steven Lynch, and Edward Markey.  All can run for Senate knowing full well that their Congressional seat would be safe in Democratic hands.  Additionally, redistricting in Massachusetts may be the main factor that forces any of these Representatives to decide on a Senate run.  Hence, although many may not necessarily like Brown, he is the best chance Republicans have in Massachusetts.  And, quite frankly, the other choices are stone cold hard liberals.  Personally, I would rather have a moderate Republican than a liberal Democrat holding this seat.

      To the north, Olympia Snowe’s situation is somewhat akin to that of Brown- the perception she is not conservative enough.  Like Orrin Hatch in Utah, her biggest challenge could actually come from her own party, not a Democratic challenger.  The question remains whether a Republican challenger like Tea Party activist Andrew Ian Dodge can win against first Olympia Snowe and then in a general election.  A possible Democratic challenger could be former gubernatorial aspirant Rosa Scarcelli.  Although not a deep blue as Massachusetts, Maine still retains that moniker.  In reality, the best chance of a Republican victory in Maine is with a moderate Republican.  I would expect that Snowe would first beat off a Dodge challenge and then defeat the Democratic opponent, whoever they may be.  Should Dodge defeat Snowe, then all bets would be off.

      In Indiana, Richard Lugar seeks another term.  Like his Republican incumbents in New England, in all likelihood his biggest troubles will come from within his own party.  Unlike his New England counterparts, a Lugar primary loss may not necessarily translate into a possible Democratic pick up.  Probably Lugar’s biggest possible problems are Richard Mourdock, the current Indiana Treasurer and Tea Party Supporter, and Congressman Marlin Stutzman who lost the 2010 Republican Party primary to eventual winner Dan Coats.  Stutzman has not made an official decision to run for this seat although he has voiced concerns with Lugar of late.  Ironically, I believe a three-way race would benefit Lugar while a Lugar-Mourdock race would seriously threaten Lugar.  Regardless, the Republican victor would have a better chance against any Democratic opponent.  Indiana is, when all the chips are cashed in, a conservative, Republican state.

     In Nevada, the retirement of ethically challenged John Ensign both eliminates and creates a headache for the Republican Party.  The headache is eliminated because the GOP will not have to dedicate time and money towards defending a seat that very well may have been lost had Ensign decided to run again due to his scandals.  However, the headache is finding the appropriate candidate to run who can defend the seat.  Thus far, Representative Dean Heller, ex-Representative Jon Porter and 2010 candidate Danny Tarkanian have been mentioned for the Republicans.  Heller probably has the best name recognition among those mentioned although Tarkanian was running close in hypothetical polls against Harry Reid in 2010 before Sharron Angle surged ahead and defeated him and others in the Nevada primary.  That strong showing against a powerful incumbent like Harry Reid in 2010 might give Tarkanian a leg up on the competition.  On the Democratic side, Representative Shelley Berkley would look to be the toughest challenger, should they run.  Two other credible names mentioned are state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (who has that advantage of a Spanish surname in a state with a growing Hispanic population) and Secretary of State of Nevada, Ross Miller.  Unlike Heller, defending Berkley’s seat in the House may prove more troublesome for the Democrats and that may be a motivation to move towards another candidate.  In either case, there are two reasons to have hope this seat will remain in Republican hands.  First, Republicans have a better field from which to choose the eventual candidate.  Secondly, sort of like Missouri, Nevada voters seem to like or prefer splitting their Senators between parties.  That being said, given he trends in voting and teh changing demographics of the state, Republicans cannot let their guard down in Nevada.

     Finally, in Arizona the seat of the retiring John Kyl must be defended.  There are quite few familiar names being bandied about in the press.  On the Republican side, Representative Jeff Flake has been mentioned.  Other names include Sherrif Joe Arpaio, Matt Salmon who ran for Governor in 2002, and 2010 Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth who gave John McCain all kinds of problems in the primary and is a Tea Party favorite.  I really cannot see Arpaio being a viable, one-issue candidate.  Not that I disagree with his ideas and his methods, but…  However, people said that about Tom Tancredo in Colorado in 2010 and immigration plays a greater role in politics in Arizona than it does in Colorado.  If Flake runs, then realistically his biggest competition may come from Hayworth in the primary campaign.  They proved quite formidable against a strong, iconic John McCain.  Either Flake or Hayworth are candidates that the Republican Party can live with in Arizona.  On the Democratic side, Representatives Ed Pastor and Gabrielle Giffords, former Representative Anne Kirkpatrick, 2010 Gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon have been mentioned as possibilities.  Due to health reasons, lets just forget a Giffords candidacy.  Also, Terry Goddard’s stock might be down because of their failure to defeat Jan Brewer, a lightning rod candidate for Governor in 2010.  Both Pastor and Kirkpatrick have name recognition in Arizona politics and neither have to worry about their seat in the House since Pastor won by 38 points in his district and Kirkpatrick was voted out.  However, Pastor might be seen as too liberal for statewide office and Kirkpatrick may entertain a run for her old House seat.  That would give an advantage to Phil Gordon who can run on an “outsider” theme.  Like Nevada, although more red than that state on a statewide level, Republicans in Arizona cannot let their guard down and allow this seat to slip to the Democrats.  Also in favor of a Republican victory is the top of the ticket: Obama’s popularity in Arizona is certainly lower than the national average, and that of Nevada.

     Once again, a lot can happen in over 18 months before Election Day 2012 and that remains a major caveat at this point.  The point of this entry is twofold.  First, although some may be licking their chops at taking over the Senate in 2012, it is important that Republicans remember that although only 10 seats, those seats must be successfully defended in 2012.  There are no guarantees that they all will be defended; in fact, only half of the ten seats seem to be reliably safe at this time.  Internal party squabbles, the emergence of a strong opponent, changing demographics and changes in the economy (if any) will all play a role in the eventual dynamics.  Obviously, Tea Party-backed candidates will have an easier time of it in certain states than in other states.  For example, one in Indiana would have a greater chance of success in a general election in Indiana than one in Maine.  Most importantly, it is imperative that whoever is chosen- be it by primary, convention or caucus- Republicans rally around those the people have chosen.  The stakes are even higher in 2012 than they were in 2010.  Those on the very right may have to suck it up and tough it out and support the likes of a Dick Lugar or Olympia Snowe should they prevail.  Those not on the very right must do the same should a Dodge or Mourdock emerge the victor in primaries.  This is a unique crossroads in American politics.  Should Obama prevail at the Presidential level for whatever reason, it is important that his liberal agenda be thwarted at both the House and Senate levels.