Senate Seat Series—Update: Fall 2011

[Update: Russ Feingold endorses Tammy Baldwin for Wisconsin’s Senate seat] 

In this series we examine the potential change in the Senate makeup of the United States Congress. Currently there is but a four-seat difference in control of the Senate (not counting the tie-break vote of the Vice President). Given the current hostile atmosphere and the lack of statesmanship, the Senate for all intents and purposes requires a filibuster-proof supermajority of 60 votes in order to pass legislation or to even consider any bills at all. The threat of a filibuster of 40 or more votes overrides passage of a Senate bill. So it’s not majority rule; it’s minority tyranny.

We’ve been looking at individual races of Senate Races coming up in 2012 but it’s been a few months since we’ve looked into the Senate as a whole. A lot has happened since then including a couple of contentious stand-offs over budget measures; one of which threatened to plunge the country into a financial crisis over the debt ceiling. We’ve also had an opportunity to hear the Republican Presidential candidates and their plans if they were to unseat President Obama. Not to mention the Occupy Wall Street protests have just begun to gain momentum while the Tea Party influence has lost some of its luster.

As a reminder, of the 33 Senate Seats that will be up for election or re-election, 23 are Democratic (two of these are Independents who caucus with the Democrats) and 10 are Republican. Democrats currently have a three seat majority plus the tie-breaking vote of the Vice President. Republicans will need to win 4 seats for a majority if President Obama wins or 3 if a Republican unseats the President.

Several of these races are returning incumbents who appear to be under little threat of being unseated. Others are retiring and others are likely in contention and one appears ready to flip to the other party.

The map below highlights the current situation. Dark colors represent incumbents. Light colors represent retiring Senators, and grey states have no Senator up for election this season.

Several polling firms including Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Cook Political Report, Roll Call, and Real Clear Politics have updated their forecasts and the following represents a conglomeration of their predictions. 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
  • Connecticut: Joe Lieberman [Retiring: likely D/I]

Most believe this leaves competitive races for the following seats:

  • Florida: Bill Nelson
  • West Virginia: Joe Manchin
  • Ohio: Sherrod Brown
  • Hawai’i: Daniel Akaka [Retiring]
  • Texas: Kay Bailey Hutchison [Retiring]
  • New Mexico: Jeff Bingaman [Retiring]
  • Wisconsin: Herb Kohl [Retiring]

All believe that the following are toss-ups:

  • Arizona: John Kyl [Retiring]
  • Nevada: Dean Heller 
  • Missouri: Claire McCaskill
  • Montana: John Tester
  • Nebraska: Ben Nelson
  • Massachusetts: Scott Brown
  • Virginia: Jim Webb [Retiring]

All agree that the following will flip party affiliation.

  • North Dakota: Kent Conrad [Retiring: Expected to go Republican]

This ends a political reign for the Democrats in North Dakota with the exit of Senator Byron Dorgan and Representative Earl Pomeroy in 2010. Absent a clear Democratic candidate, this looks to be a Republican State in 2012.

In Hawai’i popular former Republican Governor Linda Lingle has declared her candidacy for retiring Senator Akaka’s seat. She will be up against a current Representative Mazie Hirono and former Representative Ed Case. The Obama campaign better hope for some home state mojo. Should remain Democratic.

In Arizona it’s looking less likely that the favoured Democrat Gabrielle Giffords is interested (or confident) in running though many believe the seat could be hers if she wants it. This leaves long-time Arizona representative Jeff Flake as the favourite. Likely Republican unless Giffords changes her mind soon.

In Massachusetts Professor Elizabeth Warren has entered the race and is already out-polling Scott Brown by a couple of points. Beloved by liberals she may turn off some moderates; particularly men, who are intimidated by strong female figures. Calling this lean Democrat.

In Missouri Claire McCaskill is going to have difficulty hanging on to her seat particularly since President Obama isn’t likely to do well this time. But no credible Republican contender has emerged. Like last time, it’s likely to be one of those races that won’t be decided on election night. Flip a coin.

In Montana, Jon Tester faces a close battle particularly in light of President Obama’s drooping poll numbers. Tester barely took it from Republican control in 2006. He’ll need to really work to keep it. And he’s already making some concessions: he was one of two Senators seeking political cover by voting ‘no’ on President Obama’s jobs bill. He also voted ‘yes’ on raising the debt ceiling while his likely challenger, Representative Denny Rehburg voted ‘no’. How that plays in Montana is anyone’s guess. Flip a coin.

The other Senator running for political cover is Ben Nelson in Nebraska. Long a blue dog Democrat, his only hope may be the contentious Republican race for the nomination. The other thing that could help is if President Obama campaigns hard for that one electoral vote he got from Omaha (Nebraska allots their electoral votes differently than other states). This one may go Republican.

In Nevada, Dean Heller faces popular Representative Shelley Berkeley. She will have Harry Reid’s undivided attention and President Obama will likely try to hold this state as well. That combined with Heller’s vote of ‘no’ on the debt ceiling may give her the edge. Calling this Democrat.

New Mexico’s seat looks like it will be a lively race on both sides. Too early to even speculate.

In Wisconsin, popular Former Senator Russ Feingold’s decision not to re-run for this seat has put it into play. Representative Tammy Baldwin looks to be the one to take the Democratic spot. Of course, after Governor Scott Walker’s attack on unions, just about any Democrat could keep this spot. Likely Democrat.

Summary: As of today 538Refugees calls this a dead heat with two blue seats flipping red and two red seats flipping blue. But tomorrow’s another day. Look for more in-depth coverage of individual contests as the 2012 season gets closer.


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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