The Senate Seat Series

Since we’re covering the potential 2012 Presidential nominees in our Contender Series, we thought it would be useful to look at the 2012 landscape for the United States Senate. Of the 33 Seats up for election in next year, two-thirds are Democratic seats. This means, assuming no party bias in the election, there is a greater chance that control of the Senate could go to the Republicans in what would essentially be a repeat of the scenario during the Clinton administration when both houses went to the Republicans but the executive office remained in Democratic hands.

But you must have 60 seats in the Senate. That’s the magic number for getting anything done in Washington D.C. these days. You can push as many bills through the House of Representatives as desired, but, now that the filibuster is used as a partisan power wielding weapon, the only way to become a law is to crash the 60 seat barrier. So the Senate race is as important as the Presidential race in American politics.

So we will break down the races, look at some numbers, look at the potential Tea Party influence, examine possible contenders, and generally try to forge a picture of what the state of Congress will look like in 2012.

2012 Senate election map.svg

Here are the seats up for grabs:

  • Retiring Democrats
    • Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (I)
    • Kent Conrad of North Dakota
    • Jim Webb of Virginia
    • Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico
  • Retiring Republicans
    • Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas
    • Jon Kyl of Arizona
  • Democratic incumbents who may seek re-election:
    • Dianne Feinstein of California
    • Tom Carper of Delaware
    • Bill Nelson of Florida
    • Daniel Akaka of Hawaii
    • Ben Cardin of Maryland
    • Debbie Stabenow of Michigan
    • Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
    • Claire McCaskill of Missouri
    • Jon Tester of Montana
    • Ben Nelson of Nebraska
    • Bob Menendez of New Jersey
    • Kirsten Gillibrand of New York
    • Sherrod Brown of Ohio
    • Bob Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania
    • Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island
    • Bernie Sanders of Vermont (I)
    • Maria Cantwell of Washington
    • Joe Manchin of West Virginia
    • Herb Kohl of Wisconsin
  • Republican incumbents who may seek re-election:
    • Richard Lugar of Indiana
    • Olympia Snowe of Maine
    • Scott Brown of Massachusetts
    • Roger Wicker of Mississippi
    • John Ensign of Nevada
    • Bob Corker of Tennessee
    • Orrin Hatch of Utah
    • John Barrasso of Wyoming

Feel free to throw your predictions into the ring, particularly if you live in any of these states. The next article in the series will likely discuss the ‘safe’ seats.

About Mr. Universe

Mr. Universe is a musician/songwriter and an ex-patriot of the south. He currently lives and teaches at a University in the Pacific Northwest. He is a long distance hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also an author and woodworker. An outspoken political voice, he takes a decidedly liberal stance in politics.
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11 Responses to The Senate Seat Series

  1. Todd Dugdale says:

    Klobuchar is a lock to win re-election. There is no Republican with sufficient statewide stature to challenge her. Norm Coleman’s name is being whispered, but the Republican Party has changed considerably since he lost to Franken. Any Republican candidate would have to be a strong evangelical Christian now, and Coleman is Jewish. Aside from that deal-breaker, Coleman’s “finger to the wind” history has left him with no solid constituency. Bachmann is DOA outside of her gerrymandered district, and polls have proven this. Emmer committed the worst Republican sin (losing), and lost credibility in his recount challenges, though he is probably the strongest potential challenger.

    PPP has shown Klobuchar to have a very high approval rating statewide. Other polling has shown her running very strongly in the metro area, which is 60% of the state’s population.

    The only suspense in this race will be in the Republican primary race. The Party is split three ways, and the gulf between the three camps is increasing. You have the Tea Party types, the evangelical Christians, and the ‘pro-business’ types. The alliance is uneasy, as all three feel that “it’s their turn” and all three feel emboldened by the midterms. Hopefully, a lot of money will be squandered in a bitterly divisive internecine conflict for dominance. I predict a rural legislator with no statewide name recognition will emerge from the battle to become a human sacrifice in the general election, since losing will destroy his/her standing in the MNGOP.

    On the Democratic side, the Party endorsement struggle is the de-facto ‘primary’, and Klobuchar hasn’t done anything to jeopardise the endorsement. In 2006, we saw a female Republican-in-Democrat’s-clothing make a bid in the primary, but this is a long-shot (at best) strategy in Minnesota. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this tactic tried again, mostly because it’s remarkably cheap to make the attempt and the openness of the DFL nomination process requires relatively little support to get on the primary ballot.

    PPP’s Tom Jensen is noting an interesting phenomenon in his polling for the Republican primaries:

    For about a third of the GOP primary electorate, no matter how conservative you are, if they can find someone to the right of you they’ll trade you in.

  2. Brian says:

    I would say pretty much all of the Republicans are going to face a strong primary from the right which will put many of those seats in play. I’m not saying Utah will go Democrat if Hatch loses the primary, but Indiana, Maine, Mass., and Nevada are all fair game thanks to the Tea Party. I think the same thing will secure Democrat seats when/if the Tea Party nominates someone so unacceptable to the general public.

    Lastly, if the Republicans put a weak candidate up for the presidential nominee, then I’m betting the Republican turnout will be lower and harder for them to grab important Senate seats.

  3. dcpetterson says:

    Hatch, Brown, Snowe, and Lugar are likely to face primary challenges from the right. With Kyl and Hutchison retiring, that could mean as many as six currently Republican-held seats become open seats, most of them with far right Republican candidates — think Christine O’Donnell.

    A rightist meme whenever a Democrat decides to retire is to claim this proves the Democrats know their party is in trouble. Note that three of the 23 Democratic Senators up for reelection (13%) have chosen not to run. But two of the ten Republicans (a whopping 20%) have declined to seek reelection. By the logic of the rightist meme, this implies the Republicans are running scared.

  4. Michael Weiss says:

    Feinstein is pretty much a sure reelection. Cantwell is pretty safe as well.

  5. DC,
    I never bought into that meme in the first place. Incumbents drop out in fear only if it’s something specific to the candidate. Something like getting caught in the men’s room soliciting sex.

  6. Mainer says:

    Snowe already has 1 listed primary oponent and another 1 or 2 salivating in the wings. Go for it,I say. The Senator still has one of the highest or next to highest approval ratings in the country. So I say go after her hammer and tong, shes tough. You may take her out of the primary, and I see that as far from certain, but in doing so you will do one of two things. She will become an Independent and win or she will say the hell with the freaking ingrate lunatics and just retire there by handing an election to the Dems if they run some one just a little more charasmatic than Elmer Fudd. We have a very strong Indy up here that just barely missed winning Gov. that needs to be watched as well. You need to check out the CPAC anouncement of the clown that thinks his Tea Party connections gives him a shot at taking out Snowe. Hell even our new Teaper Gov. is backing Snowe and ain’t the Teapers pissing about that. But one must remember Teaper Gov only got 38% of the vote……….kind of a weak mandate to be going after Snowe.

  7. mclever says:

    Lugar, Snowe, Klobuchar, Tester, etc… Against these sorts of sane, reasonable candidates with high cross-party popularity, it seems like any successful primary challenge would shoot the incumbent party in the foot. Seriously. For me, even though I lean Democrat, I’d be sad to see folks like Lugar and Snowe out of the Senate, even if those primary challenges ultimately resulted in a Dem taking the seat…

    We need good, responsible people of both parties there making the good, reasonable arguments that keep the ideologues from running away with things.

  8. mclever says:

    Having lived in CA, I agree with Michael that Feinstein should win re-election with relative ease, but it probably won’t look pretty.

    California has a decent-sized Republican bench, so there will probably a competent challenger. With the past few Presidential elections, we tend to think of California as a vast swath of blueness, but it wasn’t so long ago that it was a Republican stronghold. The outgoing Governator is a Republican, and there are plenty of conservative areas like Orange County and the Inland Empire. The state as a whole is closer to a 50-50 R/D split than most people realize. Republicans can and do win state-wide races in California.

    Furthermore, Feinstein probably won’t go completely unchallenged by the Dems. In most cases, she’s actually more moderate than California’s junior Senator Boxer, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a challenge from the Green-minded left. But, Feinstein’s well experienced in navigating California’s political waters, so I’d expect her to emerge from such a primary challenge with stronger “I represent all of California” credentials going into the general race.

    Despite these expected hurdles, Feinstein is very popular in California, and the more that national Republicans try to paint her as a crazy psycho from the zany left coast, the more Californians rally around her. Because she’s actually relatively moderate, those crazy claims just don’t stick well to her with most folks. They know her too well.

    The other thing to remember is that the average Republican in California is a quite different animal from, say, a Republican in Texas. Both may be quite conservative on certain social and fiscal issues, but the coastal conservative tends to be a little more practical and aware of science and environmental issues. Orange County folks know that a cap-n-trade style plan helped make So Cal less smoggy than Houston, so they aren’t as afraid of similar policies to reduce other pollutants. This is a point that’s often missed by national strategists when they try to get too ideological in a place like Cali.

    So, Feinstein’s moderate stances will likely draw a lefty primary challenge, but she’s well enough established to fend it off. Her Republican opponent–whoever it may be–likely will be credible and competent, especially if Republicans smell a strong year. However, unless something drastic or unexpected occurs, Feinstein is a solid campaigner well-known and well-liked in the state and should emerge victorious for another six years in DC, even though the race may be within 5 points.

  9. dcpetterson says:

    Michael, I agree with you that the meme about elected officials retiring because they’re scared of their party’s future is bunk. I just wanted to give the believers in it a tweak.

  10. Mainer says:

    DC, I fear far too much of it is going to be elected officials having a belly full of horseshit. I don’t really lik Kyl but in some ways he is better than what we might get in trade. One can of course hope but I suspect we will just get nuttier and nuttier people that will just keep driving out any one with a mind until the electorate wakes up………yeah fat chance right at least for now.

  11. Pingback: Senate Seat Series—The Safe Seats | 538 Refugees

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