Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Senate Will Not Be The Same (Part 2)

In late 2009, I wrote that the 2010 national elections would be a blow-out for
the Republicans. The polling did not then indicate this, and contemporary
political commentary certainly did not suggest this. Why did I stick my
political neck out then? Because it was obvious to me by that time that a
significant majority of Americans had not only rejected both the tactics and
the substance of the so-called Obamacare legislation, but had been noticeably
turned off by the Democratic congressional leadership of Nancy Pelosi and
Harry Reid which had strong-armed not only Obamacare, but other
legislation through the Congress.

Some months ago, I wrote that, under almost any circumstances (including
the re-election of President Obama), the Republicans will regain control of
the U.S. senate in 2012. This was not all that difficult a prediction inasmuch
as almost twice as many Democratic seats are up for election this cycle than
Republican seats. In recent days, however, I have noticed much commentary
by more than a few colleagues that Republican control is in doubt. This was
probably due to the bitter current GOP presidential nominating campaign,
doubts about Mitt Romney, and various polls that matched Democratic
incumbents or replacements of incumbents against Republican challengers.
Announcements that former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey would run
again in Nebraska and that GOP Senator Olympia Snowe unexpectedly
would retire further seemed to shake up the Republican "inevitability"

As it turns out, the Kerrey announcement has barely affected that race. My
savvy friend and colleague Stu Rothenberg slightly (and I think perfunctorily)
moved the race from "Safe Republican" to "Republican Favored." Mr.
Kerrey, more than 20 years from his last race in Nebraska, himself was in,
then out, then in again. Nebraska Republicans have not yet settled on a
nominee, but whoever it is will be heavily favored in November. Mr. Kerrey
was a good senator, and in 1992, a serious candidate for president, but many
years living in Manhattan and serving as president of one of the most
ultraliberal colleges in the nation, will not help him regain favor in
conservative Nebraska where many younger voters do not remember him.

In the case of Maine, the Republicans will likely lose a vote for organizing
the senate, but not necessarily lose a vote on much legislation. The first
reaction to Mrs. Snowe's retirement was that a liberal Democrat would
replace her. But former independent Governor Angus King has announced
he will run, and he is favored to win. A political centrist, Mr.King might
be a better vote for some GOP legislation than Mrs. Snow, a liberal
Republican, was. Almost certainly, Mr. King would organize with the
Democrats, and many local party officials now favor him. But there will
be a Democratic nominee in November, and there is even the possibility
that in the resulting three-way race, the Republican might squeak through.

Polls have shown that the Democrat is favored in the open Hawaii senate
seat, that incumbent Democrat Sharrod Brown is ahead in Ohio, and that
incumbent Senator Bill Nelson in Florida leads in his race. I am prepared
to predict now that Republicans Linda Lingle in Hawaii, Josh Mandell in
Ohio and Connie Mack in Florida will win their races in these states.

The seat of Incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in Missouri and the
open Democratic seat in North Dakota (Kent Conrad retiring) even now
heavily lean to their Republican opponents. These will also be GOP
pick-ups. Likewise, incumbent Democratic Senator Jon Tester in Montana
trails his challenger GOP Congressman Denny Rehberg, and will probably
not be returning to take the oath next January.

In Wisconsin, liberal Democrat Herbert Kohl is retiring, and although
the recall vote of Governor Scott Walker complicates this state's vote in
November, if former Governor Tommy Thompson becomes the GOP
nominee (he now leads in primary polls), he will be the favorite to win
in November against Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin.

There are a few incumbent Republican senators who are potentially
vulnerable this cycle, but I predict that Senator Scott Brown in
Massachusetts and Senator Dean Heller in Nevada will be re-elected.
In both cases, their Democratic opponents have turned out to be
controversial or weak.

Senator Richard Lugar is facing a serious primary opponent this year.
If he wins, his re-election is certain. If he does not, the Republicans
are ultimately likely to retain the seat although it might be close. I think
Republicans are also likely to keep the seat held by retiring GOP Senator
Jon Kyl in Arizona.

This leaves the contests in Virginia (where an incumbent Democrat is
retiring), Michigan (where incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow is
running for re-election), New Mexico (Democrat also retiring), and
possibly Washington (where incumbent Democrat Maria Cantwell is
also running for re-election). Democrats probably would retain these
seats (although Virginia and New Mexico could yet go to the

My math adds up, then, to a net gain of at least six seats for the GOP
in the U.S. senate. It could be as many as ten, especially if President
Obama fails to win re-election, now a distinct possibility. A major reason
why I am predicting victory for the Republicans has been not only the
continuing negative voter reaction to the Democratic agenda but the GOP
success in recruiting so many outstanding challengers this year. This
includes Linda Lingle, Dennis Rehberg, Josh Mandel, John Berg, and
Tommy Thompson (assuming he wins his primary)

With redistricting not yet finalized, and so many nominees in both
parties not yet chosen, I am not yet ready to predict control of the U.S.
house, although the Republicans now hold a large majority.

We now know the Republican nominee for president, but the full
character of the presidential contest is not yet known. There will be
much to discuss about that, and its consequences, in the days ahead.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

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