When I read Charlie Cook’s assessment of the 201o electoral landscape (via Jim Geraghty), I wondered if Republicans could win the Senate back 10 months hence:
Come November, Senate Democrats’ 60-vote supermajority is toast. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how Democrats could lose the Senate this year. But they have a 50-50 chance of ending up with fewer than 55 seats in the next Congress.
Difficult, possibly impossible for Democrats to lose the Senate. But, at this point thirty years ago, no one was talking about the GOP winning the Senate, but riding Reagan’s coattails, 12 Republicans were elected in states previously represented by Republicans.
I looked at the 18 Democratic seats up this fall and realized that while it was unlikely the GOP could recapture the Senate, it is possible should the GOP recruit or nominate strong candidates against seven incumbents and in one seat made open this week (Connecticut).
First, let’s look at the seats that are out of play, the three unbeatable Democrats, alas that two (New York’s Schumer and Vermont’s Leahy) are among the Senate’s most obnoxious partisans. The other, Hawai’i’s Daniel Inouye, turns 86 this fall. If he should retire, Governor Lingle might have a chance should she throw her hat in the ring. But, the eight-term incumbent has given no indication that he intends to step down.
Then, let’s look at the bright side, the four likely GOP pickups, Arkansas, Nevada, North Dakota and Pennsylvania. In a subsequent post, I will detail how I have become more bullish on the Keystone State in the past few days.
Now, we move to the two tossups which lean Republican Delaware (because of Mike Castle’s popularity) and Colorado. That brings us to 46. With a good campaign, Mark Kirk should flip the Land of Lincoln. Recall that in Democratic year (’06 and ’08), he held a seat which Obama won by a margin nearly identical to his statewide margin. Kirk’s is a suburban seat and the Chicago suburbs shift to the Democrats in recent years accounts for their dominance in the state. The ’09 elections showed Republicans doing well in Northeastern suburbs. Should they extend that to the Midwest, a Republican win easily win the seat once held by the president.
Should Carly Fiorina win the GOP primary and raise $25 million, she will certainly give Ma’am a run for her money. The state economy should put voters in a throw-the bums-out mood. That brings us to 48 (presuming no GOP losses).
And then, there are the six long shots, all but two of which become less long with strong candidates. Those two are Maryland and Oregon, the latter a Democratic state with a thoughtful liberal (Ron Wyden) up for reelection. There are conservative pockets in the Beaver State. Perhaps if a socially moderate legislator with a record of fiscal responsibility announced, he could fire up the Tea Party base and give Wyden a run for his money. After a quarter-century representing the Old Line State in the Senate, the 73-year-old Barbara Mikulski doesn’t have much to show for it; Michael Steele did garner 44% of the vote in a very Democratic year in that very Democratic state when voters ousted the popular Republican Governor. He might help his party more by challenging the diminutive incumbent than by continuing on in his current post.
Then, there are the four states where the GOP has a good shot if they can recruit strong challengers, Indiana, New York (Gillibrand), Washington State, Wisconsin. In the Hoosier State, Bayh’s health care vote removed the mask of moderation he has worn throughout his career. A strong challenger could beat him in this traditionally Republican State. In the early 2000s, Wisconsin has been trending Republican and Washington has shown a certain politically orneriness. In 1994, voters elected Republicans to fill seven of the states nine House seats. And Patty Murray hasn’t been very effective–and has never run in an environment unfavorable to Democrats.
Should the GOP run the tables on those 4, we’re at 52. But, right now, I’m not aware of any serious candidates in any of those races. If I were NRSC chair John Cornyn, I’d be scouring the Republican rosters in the Indiana, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin legislatures looking for charismatic legislators who regularly voted against budget-busting policies and see if they were interested in continuing that work in the nation’s capital.
If he wants to be part of the Senate majority next fall, Cornyn’s going to have to find good candidates in at least four states and hope that Democrats don’t do to Barbara Boxer what they did to Chris Dodd. With Ma’am out of the picture, the chances increase for Democrats to retain their hold on the Golden State.
(Yes, I know I barely touched on Connecticut because right now I’m not sure where to place it.)