With 2012 Senate polling results already being released in at least four states, the new election cycle already is poised to begin. Unlike in the last three voting periods, it is the Democrats who must now defend the larger number of seats. In this particular cycle, because the Democrats did so well in the 2006 races, they are forced to defend 70% of the states standing for election; 23 Democratic Senators are up for re-election versus just 10 on the Republican side. This gives the GOP ample opportunity to win enough races to claim the majority.
The presidential election year turnout model is likely to be kinder to the Democrats than the 2010 mid-term voter participation ratio, but even with that advantage the GOP’s chances of gaining a net of four seats to claim an outright majority appears high. In 2010, the Republicans were forced to win 28 of the 37 campaigns in order to reclaim majority status. In 2012, they will only need to win 14 of 33 to do so, meaning a winning percentage of just .424. This obviously represents quite a change.
Let’s first start with the GOP defensive states. Today, of the 10 states they must risk, it appears that only two are vulnerable in a general election: scandal-tainted Nevada Sen. John Ensign, and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who must now run for a full six-year term. Ensign likely will face a competitive primary before going onto the general election. Early polling gives Brown a substantial advantage over every potential Democratic opponent.
The Tea Party could again be a factor in certain GOP Senate primaries that may eventually affect the general election, thus potentially putting more seats in play for the Democrats. Sens. Olympia Snowe (ME), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), and Orrin Hatch (UT) appear to be in such a category today. Of these three situations, the greatest general election effect will occur in Maine.
On the Democratic side, with 23 seats to defend, it appears that at least nine states begin in competitive status. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, still feeling the effects of his crafting what is commonly called the “Cornhusker Kick-Back” in exchange for supporting Obamacare, leads the list of vulnerable Democrats. His favorability numbers suggest that several Nebraska Republican candidates could unseat him. Others in the highly vulnerable category include Sens. Jim Webb (VA), Jon Tester (MT), Claire McCaskill (MO), Bill Nelson (FL), Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Sherrod Brown (OH). The latter three, Nelson, Stabenow, and Brown, are in this category because of the way their states performed in 2010, the fact that the presidential election will increase the amount of political activity and awareness in their states, and that much GOP opposition activity is already underway.
Obviously, the 2012 Senate cycle will drastically change, but today’s outlook certainly gives the GOP ample opportunity to achieve their majority status goal.
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