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.