Incredibly Early 2012 Senate Speculation

Well, this is a fairly silly exercise this far out (and a waste of the hour I just spent writing it), but here it is anyway: my pointlessly early handicapping of the 2012 Senate picture.


– Dems are in better shape than it looks (remember, everyone thought we’d pick up seats in 2010 this far out), but still slight underdogs.

– Unlike 2010, GOP has a couple of glaring D pickup opportunities to deal with, but should still break about even to slight GOP advantage.

– None of this is the least bit set yet, and mostly isn’t anything people don’t already know, but at least it’s all in one place now.



Arizona (Jon Kyl, 1995) : In 2006, Kyl beat real estate consultant Jim Pederson by a solid 10 points in a Democratic year. If he runs again, he should win easily, especially given the hard right trend of Arizona politics since 2008.

SSP reported a couple of weeks ago that Kyl has had anemic fundraising in the period leading up to 2011 and that retirement speculation is building. Even if he steps aside, however, this is simply likely to result in an even more depressing Republican winning the seat. The AZ Democratic party really isn’t very well organized, and the D bench here is surprisingly slim for such a populous state. Likely R with Kyl, Lean R without.

Indiana (Richard Lugar, 1977) : Lugar is so popular among the Indiana general electorate, he didn’t even have an opponent in 2006. There’s a chance he could be teabagged. Even if this happened, however, Dems have no bench here: Bayh is MIA, Ellsworth and Hill are damaged from their 2010 losses and Weizenapfel is a severe underdog. Obama also isn’t likely to contest Indiana to the degree that he did in 2008. I’m giving this race to the GOP either way. Likely R

Maine (Olympia Snowe, 1995) : With her bucking of the hard-right ideology that has taken over the ME GOP, Snowe has become a finalist for the dubious “Most likely to be teabagged” award. The question at this point is really whether or not a teabagger candidate will emerge in such a low-interest rural state. Even if Snowe does end up losing her primary, there’s no guarantee that a quality Democrat will run. At this point, it’s Obama’s support in the 2nd CD could also decide a great deal in this race. Like the ME-Gov race this year, it’s unlikely we’ll know all the details until very late in the cycle, and even then the polls will probably be wrong. Solid R with Snowe, Lean R without .

Massachusetts (Scott Brown, 2010) : It’s almost certain that despite Brown’s high approval rating the Dems will try their damndest to get Ted Kennedy’s seat back after Martha Chokely’s complete epic campaign fail in 2009-10. There will be presidential-level turnout here, and Dems will almost certainly run a better campaign than Coakley did, but MA voters are wary of a Democratic monopoly and Brown has been working hard to keep his voting record moderate. An Obama landslide or a Vicki Kennedy candidacy could dislodge him by default, but anyone else is going to be in for a barnburner. Tossup

Mississippi (Roger Wicker, 2007) : Wicker beat the pants off of top-tier recruit Ronnie Musgrove in 2008 by a much larger than expected margin. The shift of the South to the GOP is more or less complete at this point. There’s no reason to expect otherwise in this race. Solid R

Nevada (John Ensign, 2001) : John Ensign is toast, whether it be in the primary or in the general. The expectation is a matchup between 2nd CD Congressman Dean Heller and 1st CD Congresswoman Shelly Berkeley. That would be a reasonable assumption for the 2006 cycle, but in 2012, it’s entirely likely that Heller could be teabagged by none other than still-popular-with-the-fringe-that-votes-in-GOP-primaries Sharron Angle, or a similar nutcase. In a Heller vs. Berkeley matchup in a contested swing state in a Presidential year, it would be a dead heat to slight Berklely advantage. Berkeley vs. Angle, of course, would be a Democratic rout. Either way, this might turn out to be our best pickup opportunity of the cycle. Tossup to Lean D

Tennessee (Bob Corker, 2007) : The bottom has fallen out for Dems in Tennessee since Harold Ford’s narrow 2006 loss to Corker. There has been talk of a Corker primary, but as there are few statewide officials of stature who can pull that off, Corker is probably safe regardless. Likely R .

Texas (Kay Bailey Hutchison, 1993) : Hutchsion’s massively bungled retirement last year will make for an interesting primary whether or not she runs. In the likely event that the eventual GOP nominee here will be slightly to the right of Attila the Hun, a good statewide Dem could make a race of this. Unfortunately, there aren’t many TX Dems with statewide appeal left. Likely R in lieu of a top-tier Dem.

Utah (Orrin Hatch, 1977) : Hatch is dead man walking, having provoked the teabaggers in the most Republican state in the Union. In true Hatch form, he’ll go down slinging bile, but there’s no chance in hell that a Dem can win here even if Jason Chaffetz is the nominee. Solid R  

Wyoming (John Barrasso, 2007) : This is not the race you’re looking for. They can go about their [small] business. Move along. Solid R


California (Dianne Feinstein, 1993) : The rapidly aging Feinstein is a retirement prospect. As the most popular statewide elected official in California, she’d win re-election easily, but even if she quit, it’s unlikely the GOP would find a candidate who could win a primary and a general back to back in a presidential year. Likely D either way.

Delaware (Tom Carper, 2001) : There have been rumors of a Carper retirement, but whether or not he actually does, the GOP’s viable bench here began and ended with the now-retired Mike “Florida Beaches” Castle. Likely D .

Florida (Bill Nelson, 2001) : As today’s front page shows, Nelson is under 50, but still in a pretty commanding position vs. the potential Republican field. He’s also excellent at campaigning, especially in outreach to the elderly. This is likely to be his toughest campaign to date, but I give him the advantage for now. Lean D

Hawaii (Daniel Akaka, 1993) : The octogenerian Akaka is actually the same age as Daniel Inouye, but doesn’t have the glacial seniority or enormous list of legislative accomplishments to show for it. It’s strongly rumored that he’ll retire while he still can. If that’s the case, I recall reading that outgoing GOP Gov. Linda Lingle is considering the race. Despite Hawaii’s overwhelming support of Obama at the Presidential level, this could be a surprisingly close race if Akaka retires and Lingle pulls the trigger. Otherwise, it’ll be a no-contest D hold regardless of what Akaka does.

Lean D open seat with Lingle, Likely D all else

Maryland (Ben Cardin, 2007) : Cardin is a safe, boring, reliable Democrat of the type that can’t lose in a deep blue state in a Presidential year. Likely D , but only because this is his first time. In reality, he’ll win. With Ehrlich’s flameout in 2010, the GOP has no statewide bench here.

Michigan (Debbie Stabenow, 2001) : Stabenow has always stuck me as a bit on the wishy-washy side, and Michigan is hurting so badly right now that every incumbent – especially Democrats – is going to have trouble by default. Obama is going to have a lot more trouble here than he did in 2008, when McCain pretty much handed him the state with a bow on top. Stabenow has a lot of room to improve her numbers, but should be considered endangered until proven otherwise. Unlike most other incumbents who won semi-contested races in 2006, her last re-election was a 57-41 blowout in a good year and she’s never stuck me as a particularly good campaigner, so she’s a lot more at risk of being caught napping. I think Stabenow has a lot more to lose than a lot of Dems this cycle, and it really depends on how well she adapts to the shifting economic/political climate. Lean D for now , but it’s one to keep an eye on.

Minnesota (Amy Klobuchar, 2007) : Klobuchar has managed to be arguably the Senator with the highest approval rating in the entire country, and the GOP’s statewide bench in Minnesota leaves something to be desired at this point. Speculation at this point has swirled around Michele “Kooky” Bachmann making a run, which would turn this contest into the equivalent of FL-Sen in 2006. (Seriously, why wouldn’t she wait 2 years and run against the much less popular Al Franken in an off year?) Even with the MIP on the ballot, Klobuchar is popular enough that she has to be given a significant advantage. Likely D .

Missouri (Claire McCaskill, 2007) : McCaskill is a good campaigner, but could be done in by the demographics of her state, especially given Robin Carnahan’s utter shellacking this year. It probably depends a bit on the Republican nominee, but, as with all MO contests this decade, I have to call this a tossup at best right now. Tossup .  

Montana (Jon Tester, 2007) : Tester won his seat by less than 1% in a Democratic year, and Obama himself nearly won Montana in 2008. It’s all downhill from there, as Democratic numbers in the state have completely collapsed in the wake of Obamacare – especially given newly popular-as-cancer Senator Max Baucus’s role in that debacle. Tester’s hanging out in Baucus’s shadow for his entire term is going to come back to bite him, and might be an insurmountable obstacle. However, it depends on the nominee. If, as expected, the GOP nominee is Denny Rehberg, Tester might still have a shot if he can paint Rehberg as the Abramoff-loving insider that he is. Otherwise, we’re looking at a Republican rout here. (Note: I used to live in Montana. I understand MT voters better than a lot of people here. Please don’t second guess my analysis of this race unless you’ve actually lived in that region.) Tossup to Lean R

Nebraska (Ben Nelson, 2001) : Ben Nelson is the most conservative DINO in the caucus by far, and Nebraska – like most states in that region – had its Democratic high water mark in 2008, when Obama actually won NE-02. Although much has been made of Nelson’s supposed vulnerability here, I’ll believe it when a top-tier candidate declares. Otherwise, he’s committed no outright gaffes and might be surprisingly difficult for the GOP to bump off. Lean D for now.

New Jersey (Bob Menendez, 2007) : The lackluster Menendez has relatively anemic approval ratings, even among Democrats, but still has to be considered a slight favorite. This is New Jersey in a presidential year, after all. Still, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see this race become much closer than it should be simply due to Menendez being the turd that he is. (And yes, I have plenty of justification for that statement, between his poor campaigning skills, his awful tenure as head of the DSCC, his poor-to-nonexistent constituent outreach, and his holding important Democratic bills hostage on more than one occasion because he wanted to tighten the failed embargo on Cuba. Corzine could’ve done a lot better here.) Lean D .

New Mexico (Jeff Bingaman, 1983) : I’ve heard retirement rumors of questionable veracity for Bingaman, but nothing concrete. If he retires, this is probably a Lean D race given the native Hispanic community’s still fairly strong support of Obama. If Bingaman runs again, of course he’ll win easily. Solid D with Bingaman, Lean D without

New York (Kirsten Gillibrand, 2009) : Gillibrand won the special for the rest of Hillary Clinton’s term, just in time to run for a new term of her own. She did fine in 2010, and should have no problems whatsoever in 2012. Solid D

North Dakota (Kent Conrad, 1992) : This one’s a weird situation. After Dorgan retired and Pomeroy lost in 2010, ND has gone from a 3-0 Dem delegation to Conrad being the only holdout. Given his seniority, he’s likely to run again, but a retirement isn’t entirely out of the question. The saving grace here is that with John Hoeven safely elected to Dorgan’s seat and Rick Berg still getting his training wheels the GOP doesn’t really have a top-tier bench to go against Conrad. If he retired, Pomeroy could easily run for the seat and might even win. I doubt he’ll retire, though. Likely D .

Ohio (Sherrod Brown, 2007) : Sherrod Brown has a problem, which is that he has a voting record only slightly to the right of Bernie Sanders, but he represents a state as stupidly conservative as Ohio, where Dems lost catastrophically in 2010. This more than any other Democratic Senate race will likely depend entirely on how well Obama does in Ohio. If Obama wins, Brown will probably be able to survive. If Obama loses Ohio, Brown’s in trouble. He could be in trouble anyway, but I’m at least confident that Brown is a good enough campaigner to make this a close race in either direction. This one is definitely one to watch.   Lean D to Tossup

Pennsylvania (Bob Casey, 2007) : Two years ago, I never would’ve suspected that Casey, who used to have sky-high approval ratings, would be on the “bottom 3” list just after John Ensign and Joe Lieberman, but sadly, this is the case today. As with Brown, Obama’s performance here will probably decide everything, only there’s a lot more Democratic upside in PA than there is in Ohio. Obama will probably win PA absent a Reagan-style landslide, and turnout in Philly, Pittsburgh, and Scranton should be good enough to get Casey re-elected if he shores up the base. It will be closer than it should be, though. Lean D

Rhode Island : The surprisingly robust John Robiatalle might run against Whitehouse, but Whitehouse has the obvious advantage as the incumbent in a solidly Democratic state. Of the 6 seats Dems picked up in 2006, this is probably the one of least concern. Likely D .

Virginia (Jim Webb, 2007) : Webb beat Senator Macaca by less than 1% in 2006, When and whether Webb runs against Allen again in 2012 is still a subject of debate – much has been made of his dislike of his job and of fundraising. This gives Allen the mojo going into the contest.

Allen’s biggest danger right now is getting teabagged. However, this is Virginia, and it’s likely that there will be multiple teabaggers running. If Allen survives the primary, he has to be considered a slight favorite. However, Democratic organization in Virginia here may determine the outcome of this race AND the Presidential race.

If Brian Moran can’t keep the party together and enough Federal employees are disgruntled by their pointless wage freeze, it might tip the scales just enough to negate any advantage Dems had here in 2008. Tossup

Washington (Maria Cantwell, 2001) : Cantwell is more popular than Patty Murray, will be running in an improved climate in a state with a comparatively good economy, and the WA GOP is really running out of viable statewide candidates at this point. Likely D

West Virginia (Joe Manchin, 2010) : As with Gillibrand, Manchin has to do it all over again next cycle. Thanks to the fact that none of the state’s limited pool of top-tier GOP talent wants to run against him, it’s likely that he’ll succeed, even in spite of WV’s obvious preference for the GOP. Lean D .

Wisconsin (Herb Kohl, 1989) : Septugenarian Kohl has been the subject of retirement rumors for some time, and the recently defeated Russ Feingold has been subject to an equal amount of comeback speculation should he decide to do so. Kohl is middle of the road enough that he should have no problems should he run again; a Feingold do-over would really depend on who the GOP found to run against him. Fortunately, Paul Ryan is probably going to be too busy destroying the budget in the House to run for Senate, and Tommy Thompson has bungled coming out of retirement enough times that he’s probably not viable. Any other GOP candidate is probably the underdog in a presidential year. Likely D with Kohl, Lean D without .  


Connecticut (Joe Lieberman, 1989): The one consensus going into this cycle is that Holy Joe is royally hosed by the uberpartisan environment that, ironically, he helped create by campaigning for McCain. Linda McMahon is all but running, and if she doesn’t, some other Republican will. He is roundly despised by Connecticut Democrats, and independents don’t much care for him, either. The only danger is that there’s a bloody primary on the Democratic side that damages the eventual nominee. Then Lieberman might pick up just enough support to throw the election to McMahon. In any case, the one outcome we can be sure of this far out is that the odds of Joe Lieberman winning a fourth term in the Senate are about as likely as my cat discovering a cure for cancer. Tossup to Lean D

Vermont: (Bernie Sanders, 2007): Sanders is tremendously popular in Vermont and has this seat for as long as he wants it. Solid I  

150 thoughts on “Incredibly Early 2012 Senate Speculation”

  1. Nelson has committed no major gaffes?

    HCR was a gaffe on steroids for Nelson.

    Top tier opponents?

    The AG is already in the race. The State Treasurer might run.

    He has finally angered the state enough that he shouldn’t have any trouble losing by 10 points.

    By the way, there is a huge Republican bench in ND. (More on that later)

  2. The MA special election was held in mid-late January I believe, so both the vast majority of Coakley’s fail and Brown’s seating were 2010, not 2009.

    Dianne Feinstein took office in 1992, not 1993 (special election). Similarly, Menendez took office in 2006 because he was appointed.

    Ok, sorry about that. Also, I would not call Robitaille “robust.” As a rather conservative candidate (far to the right of RI as a whole) he only got 34% in a ridiculously Republican year. The fact that the Republicans ran a pretty good candidate against a meh incumbent SOS and still couldn’t get over the hump says a lot about RI politics.

    Had Caprio dropped out it looks like the vast majority of his support would have gone to Chafee (seeing as how the places he won are quite loath to vote Republican). In anything other than 2010, but especially a presidential year, forget about a Republican getting elected. To say nothing of how RI is much more Democratic at the federal level than at the state level.

    I really think the Republicans need to stop running conservatives and run someone like Cranston mayor Allan Fung or Warwick mayor Scott Avedisian to ever even have a whisper of a chance at federal office in RI, but even in RI they can get teabagged.

    Also, from what I’ve heard Lingle isn’t very popular in Hawaii and probably wouldn’t be as competitive as some think. Maybe she’ll just retire to some cozy old mansion where she can spend her days being a bigoted prick in peace.

  3. Honestly, I think whatever “extra” outreach Nelson has to reaching the elderly will be negated by the fact he voted for the HCR bill.  His reelection is all going to depend on how the economy is doing, especially in-state, as he isn’t extremely well-known.

  4. With the exception of ND and NE, its pretty good. Some of my predictions would differ, but, this far out, I doubt we will reach much consensus on race rankings.  

  5. I see 9 races being highly competitive, at least until a few more shoes drop (Kohl retirement, Dorgan retirement, Akaka retirement, Ensign/Snowe/Lugar primary, etc).

    I take a much more liberal criteria for toss-up or endangered (depending on if you are a Cook or Rothberg fan).

    Toss-up Rs

    MA (Brown) He can dance, but this IS MA in a POTUS year

    NV (Ensign) Trends in NV are blue-ish and this will get ugly

    Toss-up Ds

    FL, MI, MO, MT, OH, VA, NE all incumbents have weak initial numbers and will face very competitive races. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess on how they’ll eventually shake out, but I am betting all 9 will be up in the air in on November 1st of 2012.

    Many others (on both sides) will all draw some attention, but havne’t developed enough to allow any meaningful analysis.


    In the first round of The Cook Political Report’s 2012 Senate ratings, Democrats start with three incumbents whose races are classified as toss-ups: Ben Nelson in Nebraska, Jim Webb in Virginia, and newly elected Joe Manchin in West Virginia. Three Democrats are in the “Lean Democratic” column: Bill Nelson in Florida, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, and Sherrod Brown in Ohio. To that list you can add independent Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, who sits and caucuses with the Democrats. So, that’s seven incumbents in races expected to be competitive.  


    Republicans, meanwhile, go into the 2012 cycle with just two Senate seats in competitive categories, both toss-ups: Scott Brown in Massachusetts and John Ensign in Nevada.

    While I’d quibble at the margins, I don’t see anything seriously wrong with any of these — and I don’t see any big quibbles with the predix here either.

  7. My fist impression about 2012 is not bad.

    First we have many not safe democratic incumbents confirming they will bid the reelection.

    Later we have some of the most dangerous potential republican challengers declining a bid (D Heineman and J Bush).

    Without know still who can run in the side of the challengers it is very difficult to give predictions.

    My wish for now is to see more democratic incumbents confirming they will run again for senate and for governor (including B Sanders). I would like J Lieberman (better in January 2011) and D Akaka (only cause of his advanced age and because I wish his successor can have the help of Obama in the ticket) retire this year.

  8. don’t forget that thanks to Prop 14, it’s a bit easier for a sane Republican to get through a primary. But given how Democratic California has become and given that it’s a presidential year, I think even Tom Campbell would have his work cut out for him.

  9. It’s way too frickin early to be making projections for 2012 senate elections. This time 2 years ago, the republicans were lost in the woods looking for the breadcrumbs that they dropped. This time 2 years ago, everyone thought Napolitano & Sebelius would be the democratic candidates for senate in their respective states. This time 2 years ago, if you had said that a reformed witch who had her “man-pants” on would be the republican nominee for senate in delaware, I would have smacked you upside the head. I could go on, and on, and on, but I won’t. So just know, politics can change in an instant.  

  10. Dems win Nevada and Massachusetts.

    Teabaggers win Arizona and Maine primaries – Dems go onto win those states.

    Lieberman finishes in third and a Democratic senator takes office in Connecticut.

    Ben Nelson becomes this cycle’s Blanche Lincoln, every other seat stays.

    Final result:

    DEM 55+1

    GOP 43+1

    Obama cruises to re-election and the Democrats take back the House, by a similar margin the GOP currently holds.  

  11. It would be a tossup at worst.

    Can’t imagine Obama won’t contest IN at least to start with.

    I will second-guess you on MT since I’ve never lived in the United States yet still know a bit about this stuff. I think that is a tossup if Rehberg runs and might even lean to Tester if he doesn’t.

    Nelson is leans R at best considering the polling.

    New Mexico would probably be a tossup without Bingaman.

    I suspect Menendez is stronger than Stabenow but I agree they are probably both leans Dem for now.

    Dorgan might get a race even if he runs. Without out him I think probably leans R.

    Bob Casey has been very quiet hence his anemic approvals. I don’t see that as anything but favored.

    WI is probably a tossup without Kohl.

  12. Maine w/o Snowe is a pure tossup, not lean R.  That would be true in a midterm, and it’s especially true in a Presidential.

    Hawaii is safe D with Akaka and likely D w/o him, even against Lingle.  Lingle finished with poor job approvals, and Obama coattails will make HI-Sen impossible for any Republican; there’s just now way for a Republican to create enough ticket-splitters.

    Montana is a tossup at worst for Tester, under no circumstances can it be called lean R.

    Nebraska is the first one where I disagree with you in the other direction; the seat is lean R, and no better than tossup no matter what.  No way is it lean D.  A GOP nominee will have to run a lousy campaign and implode for Nelson to do any more than barely escape.

    North Dakota I wouldn’t call any better than lean D even with Conrad.

    Pennsylvania, no worse than likely D in a Presidential year with the well-liked Casey on our line.

    Finally, Connecticut is no worse than lean D no matter what.  If Lieberman runs as a Democrat and wins the primary, it’s safe D, and it’s at least likely D in a 2-way with another Democrat.  In a 3-way, it’s lean D.

  13. As the GOP likes to point out. I see the prospect of 8 seat gains for us, while the GOP might win 6. I think, on our side, that MI, MO, MT, and NE will go GOP. VA depends on whether or not Allen wins the Primary, and WV depends on whether or not Capito runs. I think we will pick up GOP-held seats such as CT, MA, NV, and TX. AZ depends on whether someone like Phil Gordon or, maybe, Congresswoman Giffords runs. IN depends on what Joe Donnelly does. ME depends on whether Snowe loses the primary, and/or Michaud runs. TN depends on whether Jim Cooper chooses to go down in flames in his district or raise his statewide profile, though I think we’re screwed either way.

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