Politics

Do the math: Senate could shift Republican in 2012

Less than 200 days before the November elections, Republicans are brimming with confidence about gaining at least the four seats they need to put the U.S. Senate in their column.

With 47 Republican senators and 53 Democrats, the number of seats up for election clearly point to the much-desired GOP net gain of four and then some. There are 35 Senate seats are up for grabs this fall, with 10 held by Republicans and 25 by the Democrats.

Of that 25, six Democratic senators are retiring: Akaka (Hawaii), Nelson (Neb.), Bingman (NM), Conrad (N.D.), Webb (Va.), Kohl (Wisc.). In addition, one independent who votes with the Democrats for Senate control, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, is also calling it quits. In all seven situations, Republicans range from being slam-dunk favorites to pick up seats (Nebraska and North Dakota) to at least even money of winning (New Mexico, Virginia, and Wisconsin) to fighting chances in states once considered lost causes. In Hawaii, which last elected a Republican senator in 1970, popular two-term Gov. and moderate GOPer Linda Lingle is thought to be a formidable candidate against whoever wins the hotly contested Democratic primary. In Connecticut, where Rep. Chris Murphy and Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz are duking it out for the Democratic nomination, Republicans feel they can pick up the pieces and win their first Senate race since 1982.

“I’m an honest broker,” Connecticut GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola told Human Events during a recent interview, underscoring his neutrality, “but if Chris Murphy [who is 38] wins, he could be there for the rest of my life. So we have to have a candidate we can rally behind to stop that from happening.” The two Republican hopefuls are 2010 nominee and former World Wresting Entertainment executive Linda McMahon, a center-right GOPer, and former Rep. (1987-2006) Chris Shays, a liberal Republican.

In contrast, three of the seven Republican incumbents facing the voters are considered certain winners: Wicker (Miss.), Corker (Tenn.) and Barrasso (Wyo.). In Indiana and Utah, the two most senior Republican senators respectively—Richard Lugar and Orrin Hatch, both of whom won their first terms in 1976—faced spirited renomination challenges. But so weak are the Democratic contenders in either state that even if the insurgents were to depose the senators, they would be the betting favorites to keep the Senate seats in the two states.

Only two Republican senators are in danger of possible defeat: Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who won the nationally watched special election for the seat of the late Edward Kennedy in January 2010, and Dean Heller of Nevada, appointed to replace fellow Republican John Ensign when he resigned over a sex scandal last year. Brown faces former Obama administration official Elizabeth Warren, while Heller is locked in a tight contest with Democrat and Las Vegas-area Rep. Shelley Berkley.

Danger in Maine

Of the three Republican Senate seats in which incumbents are retiring, only one is in danger of falling into Democratic hands: Maine, where former two-term Gov. and independent Angus King is the favorite to defeat both major party candidates and succeed retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. King insists he won’t say which party he will side with for Senate control, but it is widely expected that the former governor would go with the Democrats. In contrast, retiring GOP Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas are sure to be succeeded by fellow Republicans.

In the 15 states where Democratic senators are running again, at least half are sites for highly competitive contests: Florida, where Sen. Bill Nelson should face a strong challenge from Rep. Connie Mack; Michigan, where either former Rep. Pete Hoekstra or former Legal Services chief Clark Durant could upset Sen. Debbie Stabenow; Missouri, where three strong GOPers are vying to challenge Sen. and narrow ’06 winner Claire McCaskill; Montana, where Rep. Denny Rehberg is in a nasty bout with Sen. Jon Tester; Ohio, where State Treasurer Josh Mandel is locked in a tight battle with far-left Sen. Sherrod Brown, and West Virginia, where the administration’s “war on coal” could sweep out Sen. Joe Manchin in favor of John Raese, who narrowly lost to Manchin in the 2010 special election.

That leaves Vermont, where Bernie Sanders, an independent with Democratic backing, is favored to win again.

So you don’t think Republicans can win the Senate this fall, huh? Just do the math.

Senate 2012 map courtesy of the National Republican Senatorial Committee

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