Early Look at the 2012 Senate Races

Thirteen months out with no primaries, caucuses, or conventions or even set candidates and it would appear that, assuming the Republicans don’t shoot themselves in their feet in certain states, the Senate will fall to Republican control. Of course, it will not be filibuster-proof unless this is a repudiation of Democrats and Obama so deep that it essentially destroys the party for years. It will be interesting to see, if and most likely when, Republicans gain control of the Senate whether the “gridlock” and “obstructionist” terms will be trotted out by the new minority party. Of the 33 seats up for election, only ten are currently held by Republicans. Of those ten seats, eight are considered safely in the Rebublican ranks- Arizona, Indiana (more on this is a few), Maine (ditto), Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming. Most of the political punditry is centered on an unlikely defensive seat for Republicans- that of Scott Brown in deeply blue Massachusetts.
Depending on which poll one consults, Brown is either up by 3 points or down by 2 points to likely opponent, Elizabeth Warren. Many, I believe, went a little overboard in the analysis of Brown’s original victory. In essence, it was a great symbolic victory and one that was unique to that period of time. It was the proverbial shot over Obama’s bow. But, to declare that his victory by some in conservative circles that this was a Republican renaissance in the Bay State is a little off the mark. This is one of a select few states that gives Obama approval ratings safely above the 50% mark- way above the national average. It is these facts that most concern me. While Brown has the obvious advantage of incumbency, this is a liberal state with a liberal legacy and Elizabeth Warren is a liberal with name recognition over her primary challengers. Hopefully, her Democratic challengers can inflict some monetary and reputation damage on her as she vies for the Democratic nod. It would not be a huge surprise if Brown were to lose a bid for re-election. But, time will tell and in either case, it will be a close election.
The other race that initially concerned me was in Texas to replace the retiring Kaye Bailey Hutchison. Most accept the fact that this race will pit Democratic candidate Ricardo Sanchez against Republican Ted Cruz. Both have name recognition in the state and Cruz, as Solicitor of Texas, has some Supreme Court victories to tout and enhance conservative credentials in a conservative state. Most importantly, he is a Hispanic candidate in a state with a growing Hispanic population. Yes, liberals, there are conservative Hispanics (at least, among those eligible to legally vote).
The two other races that need to be addressed are similar- Richard Lugar’s seat in Indiana and Olympia Snowe’s seat in Maine. Here, a problem ensues, especially if Brown loses in Massachusetts and Republicans fail to win winnable seats elsewhere. Looking at the math and somewhat factoring in a Democratic surprise elsewhere, it is almost imperative that Republicans do not foot themselves in the foot and nominate candidates who may have the “R” after their name and may be more conservative than other options, given the balance of the Senate, the incumbents are winnable ones. Many conservatives, here and elsewhere, have criticized Lugar as being to compromising and the same for Snowe. And while Indiana may, at heart, be a conservative state, running a too-conservative candidate against likely opponent Joe Donnelly, a candidate with name recognition and likely outside funding. Admittedly, there is a lot in Lugar’s voting record that may give some conservatives reason for pause. In the end, however, his greatest obstacle in reaching another term in the Senate is the Republican primary against challenger and Tea Party favorite, Richard Mourdock. This should be a match up between Republicans and Democrats, not Tea Party versus Democrats. There is such a thing as pushing the scales too far and Indiana, I believe, is a state that at heart is conservative, but of the gung-ho variety. Why make your chances of winning the Senate any harder than they have to be? Should Mourdock be the eventual nominee, despite Indiana’s credentials, the race will be much closer than it needs to be and may actually result in a Democratic victory. Maine is a completely different set of circumstances. This is essentially a blue state with pockets of red here and there. The problem here is that there are not enough pockets of red to overcome those overall Democratic tendencies. Hence, most Republicans to stand any chance of winning a Senate seat have to tack somewhat to the center. That is why you have an Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins in the Senate representing Maine. Like Indiana, but for a different set of dynamics, why upset an apple cart that one can live with especially since the Democratic Party has put forth no viable candidate against Snowe?
So, for the sake of argument and a worse case scenario, let us say that we lose a seat in Massachusetts and one in either Maine or Indiana. That would give the Democrats a 55-45 advantage (instead of its current 53-47). Of the 23 Democratic seats, 13 are probably safe (California, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia). Connecticut’s election will be for the retiring “independent” Joe Lieberman. The most likely match up will be Chris Murphy for the Democrats against Chris Shays for the Republicans, although Linda McMahon has demonstrated a savvy and willingness to spend money. In either case, Murphy probably wins. Hawaii is an interesting situation to replace the retiring Daniel Akaka and reaches “interesting status” only if former Republican Governor Linda Lingle enters the race. Otherwise, the only way a Republican wins is if Mazie Hirono and Ed Case inflict massive damage on each other in the Democratic primary allowing a Republican to rise above the fray. If not, then if Lingle stays out, Republicans have to look elsewhere. The one consensus state to be flipped is North Dakota where Rick Berg is expected to be the next Senator replacing the retiring Kent Conrad. The count is now 54-46. In Florida, Bill Nelson appears to be the early favorite while the Republican field is extremely crowded which could allow an alternative to the two names being most mentioned- George Lemieux and Adam Hasner- to sneak by. Thus far, Nelson leads by about 13 points in early polling in hypothetical match ups. Personally, Nelson has this seat, so let’s move on.
Missouri will be a real good place to pick up a seat as McCaskill will most likely face Todd Akin (or John Brunner). In either case, McCaskill is vulnerable in a basically conservative state (despite it