Larry Sabato: GOP Currently Favored To Take Senate In 2012

Some early prognosticating from the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato:

Republicans need to pick up either three or four seats, depending on whether they have the vice president’s tie-breaking vote in 2013. North Dakota is all-but-switched to the GOP already. Besides North Dakota, the hardest states for Democrats to hold will be Nebraska, Montana and Missouri, in that order, because it’s hard to imagine Obama winning any of those states. Nebraska will probably feature a runaway GOP presidential victory, further damaging Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D) chances of reelection.

It’s still early, and anything (read: scandals, a changing economy and international events) could happen to alter the basic dynamics of 2012. Yet the Republicans have so many tempting Senate targets that Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could trade “minority” for “majority” in his leadership title quite easily.

Beyond ND, NE, MT and MO, Republicans have decent shots at Virginia, New Mexico and Wisconsin. These three contests appear about even right now. Virginia is likely to have a well-matched race between former governor and senator George Allen (R) and former governor and DNC chairman Tim Kaine. (Allen has to clear a primary hurdle with several Tea Party candidates, but should do so with ease next June.) New Mexico and Wisconsin may tilt Democratic eventually, but right now the contests on both sides are a muddle, and no tentative call can be made. There are also a handful of other states where the GOP could conceivably compete (Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, West Virginia and Hawaii) though at the moment Democratic incumbents or open seat candidates may have the edge.

The only realistic Democratic opportunities to grab GOP seats will come in Massachusetts and Nevada, and right now the GOP incumbents (2010’s upset winner Scott Brown and appointed Sen. Dean Heller) would be considered at least slight favorites.

So the math is obvious. The best Democrats can probably do is to retain the Senate by one vote or maybe a tied Senate broken in the Democrats’ favor by Vice President Biden if President Obama is reelected. Republicans look likely to gain three seats, and have a fair-to-good chance to pick up four or five. Anything above that could signal a GOP victory in the presidential race, with attendant coattails.

This isn’t unexpected. Even if President Obama is re-elected, the number of Democratic seats up this year in states that are, at best, purple and at worst solid red makes it difficult for Democrats to maintain their current majority. In all likelihood, the GOP will maintain control of the House next year so picking up the Senate, even if the White House is lost, would be a major victory for the GOP and would require President Obama to steer even further to the right than he’s had to since November.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ben Wolf says:


    You’re probably right. Obama has avoided conflict with the Republicans whenever possible. I can’t imagine him abandoning the pragmatism-thou-art-me strategy he’s used from the beginning in favor of a more combative approach.

  2. Hello says:

    Republicans will have to win the White House in order to get the Senate. Refer to all presidential elections – in which majority control of the House and/or Senate were flips — to see what I mean. 1932, 1948, 1952, and 1980 dealt with at least one of the two. In every case the party winning the White House also experienced the flip. Harry Truman, winning a full term in 1948, flipped the Republicans out and the Democrats back in both houses. 1952 Dwight Eisenhower, while flipping the White House from Democratic to Republican, did likewise with both the House and Senate. With 1932 Franklin Roosevelt and 1980 Ronald Reagan, both flipped the White House — and brought the Senate with them (and their party).

    I don’t think there will be a break in pattern. If President Obama wins re-election, Democrats will retain majority control of the Senate. If his Republican challenger — whomever — unseats the president, winning over the Senate would come second for the GOP.