Senate Seat Series—The Safe Seats

In this series we examine the potential change in the Senate makeup of the United States Congress. The Senate is the final arbiter of debate over public policy. Bills will have already gone through Committees and the House of Representatives leaving the Senate as the final stage before being presented to the President of the United States for approval. Currently, the Senate is under Democratic control while the House is in Republican hands. We are a nation tenuously divided along lines of political ideology.

Some say that the Senate is where legislation goes to die. Legend has it that George Washington called the Senate the saucer into which we pour our legislation to cool. Often this is appropriate, because legislation should be passed only with a reasonable degree of certainty. If the legislation doesn’t pass the smell test of consensus, then it should fail. The problem becomes reconciling the idea of consensus. What is best for the American people?

Currently there is but a four-seat difference in control of the Senate (not counting the tie-break vote of the Vice President) although realistically of late there must be a 60 vote minimum to prevent a filibuster and pass any legislation. The threat of a filibuster of 40 votes overrides passage of a Senate bill. So it’s not majority rule; it’s consensus rule. This makes Senate races that much more important.

In examining the makeup of the Senate, we plan to look at all Senate races for Class 1. In this article, I’ll begin by eliminating all of the safe Senate Seats—those that do not have credible challenges and remain firmly in the hands of their respective political party.

(Update: Friday May 13th. Herb Kohl [D-WI] announces he will not seek reelection. We’re moving him to seats up for grabs though with the mood in Wisconsin it seems likely that a Republican would have difficulty winning here)

Future posts will deal with potential turnovers of Senate Seats. As mentioned in a previous Senate Seat Series post, there are 33 Senate races in 2012, of which 21 are held by Democrats, two by Independents who caucus with Democrats, and 10 by Republicans. Upon first glance, several of these races appear to be returning incumbents who are under little threat of being ousted. Several pollsters have already weighed in on these seats including Sabato, Cook, Real Clear Politics, and Rassmussen (Nate has yet to comment).

The map below highlights the current situation. Dark colors represent incumbents who are expected to be reelected. Light colors represent the party of the current seat holder, but the incumbent is either retiring or is credibly challenged in retaining the seat. White states have no Senator up for election this season.

The general consensus of safe or likely incumbent seats are:

  • California: Dianne Feinstein
  • Delaware: Tom Carper
  • Indiana: Richard Lugar
  • Maine: Olympia Snowe
  • Maryland: Ben Cardin
  • Michigan: Debbie Stabenow
  • Minnesota: Amy Klobuchar
  • Mississippi: Roger Wicker
  • New Jersey: Bob Menendez
  • New York: Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Pennsylvania: Bob Casey, Jr.
  • Rhode Island: Sheldon Whitehouse
  • Tennessee: Bob Corker
  • Utah: Orrin Hatch
  • Vermont: Bernie Sanders [Independent, but caucuses with the Democrats]
  • Washington: Maria Cantwell
  • Wyoming: John Barrasso

That leaves competition for the following incumbents:

  • Florida: Bill Nelson
  • Montana: John Tester
  • Nebraska: Ben Nelson
  • Virginia: Jim Webb
  • Massachusetts: Scott Brown
  • Missouri: Claire McCaskill
  • West Virginia: Joe Manchin
  • Ohio: Sherrod Brown

We will focus the rest of the series on these nine races, plus the races of retiring Senator seats:

  • North Dakota: Kent Conrad
  • Hawai’i: Daniel Akaka
  • Connecticut: Joe Lieberman
  • Texas: Kay Bailey Hutchison
  • New Mexico: Jeff Bingaman
  • Arizona: John Kyl
  • Nevada: John Ensign
  • Wisconsin: Herb Kohl

Republicans obviously have the advantage since eight of the nine close races (ten including Ensign’s seat) will be the Democrats’ to defend. We will not comment on the safe or likely seats unless something dramatic, such as Tea Party machinations, requires that we revisit the assumption.

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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13 Responses to Senate Seat Series—The Safe Seats

  1. Monotreme says:

    Utah may be safe in terms of staying Republican, but Not Safe for Sen. Orrin Hatch himself.

  2. Brian says:

    Indeed, Hatch is going to get primaried from the right, and hard. How dare he sit with Schumer during the State of the Union?! I’m betting Lugar and Brown will be too, though Lugar will probably survive it.

  3. filistro says:

    Defending Senate seats in the “close” races is going to depend almost entirely on public perception of how well Republicans have performed on what the public says is the most important issue facing the country… JOB CREATION.

    In the three months since taking control of the House and making big advances in the Senate, the GOP has yet to pass a single jobs-focused bill.

    Here is what they have been working on instead, obviously considering these issues more important to the nation than putting Americans back to work.

    Dem messaging is going to hammer relentlessly on this point for the next 18 months… and as a result those 9 “close” seats are going to become considerably less close.

  4. dcpetterson says:

    At minimum, Lugar, Hatch, S. Brown, and Snowe will all be primaried from the far right. Depending on who wins those races (Christine O’Donnell clones?) there could be several Democratic pickups. With filistro’s insights about messaging, and with Obama’s long coattails (see: 2008) this could be a big reversal from 2010.

  5. Defending Senate seats in the “close” races is going to depend almost entirely on public perception of how well Republicans have performed on what the public says is the most important issue facing the country… JOB CREATION.

    Maybe. But I wouldn’t bet money on it. It will certainly come down to messaging, but exactly what messaging will resonate depends on a lot of things we can’t yet see clearly.

  6. Brian says:

    A lot of it also depends on who the Republican nominee for President is. I feel like if it’s Newt, a lot of the Midwest will be less enthused to vote, while the South will be more so. Whereas if Tim Pawlenty gets the nominee (somehow), the Midwest will be more excited and the South less so. And if its Palin, all the Republicans are screwed.

  7. shortchain says:


    The experience of Minnesota indicates that it should be illegal to use “excited” and “Pawlenty” in the same sense in the same sentence.

    Tiny Tim is now bragging that he has visited almost every state over the last couple of years — while he was nominally governing the state of Minnesota. Gosh, that sure excited the hell out of me as a taxpayer in Minnesota.

  8. dcpetterson says:

    I have to agree with shortchain. If Pawlenty is nominated, it won’t “excite” people unless you mean “to vote against him.” He left Minnesota a mess, after ignoring the state for the last two years of his term, and badly screwing our economy for the first several.

    TPaw isn’t a very exciting politician. He’s like a conservative Al Gore, without the charisma.

  9. mclever says:


    He’s like a conservative Al Gore, without the charisma.

    LOL! So true…

    If you want an anecdotal measure of enthusiasm, let’s just say that about 10 times as many people showed up when Ron Paul came through this midwestern town a few weeks ago than showed up to see Pawlenty.

    (Now I’ve got an image of Pawlenty saying “lock box” stuck in my head. Damn you, dcpetterson!!)

  10. Monotreme says:

    Anytime a politician resorts to kissing his wife and it makes him more exciting, he’s got a charisma problem.

  11. mclever says:


    I’ve seen Al Gore speak publicly a few times (once when he was still a Senator), and when he’s not buttoned up for the camera, he can be very engaging and entertaining. When the boyscout gets going on something, he has the patter of a fired-up evangelical preacher tugging you towards the edge of your seat until you want to jump up and shout “Amen!” even if you disagree. (And he handles hecklers well. So does Dan Quayle, btw, but that’s another subject.)

    Gore is very charismatic in person. I think he worried too much about seeming stiff rather than running with it. He let “image consultants” out-handle him during his Presidential run rather than just being himself. I know that he’s a political punching bag for conservatives, especially for AGW deniers, but I think a lot of his image is undeserved. It’s amazing how once the media paints a picture of someone, it’s nearly impossible to redraw the lines.

  12. filistro says:

    The hosting site seems to be mostly down… only a few functions are working. They expect to have it back up soon…

  13. Monotreme says:

    I liked Al Gore, and I must have been part of his target audience when he kissed Tipper, because I liked that, too.

    He was really good in “An Inconvenient Truth”, I thought.

    Another politician who is much better in person than on TV is John Kerry. We went to see him in Mississippi during his 2004 Presidential run. Tough crowd, but he handled it well.

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