This kind of analysis will change many times before November. And the Presidential race will probably overshadow everything. But Stu Rothenberg (of the Rothenberg Political Report) is up in pixels this morning with an analysis of the developing race for control of the U.S. Senate. He suggest that the Dems need to focus on picking up two seats now held by vulnerable Repubs.
The big Senate picture is fairly ugly for the Dems. Here are the basics:
Dems currently control the Senate by a modest majority of 53 (counting two independents who caucus with the Dems.) If the Dems retain the White House in 2012, which means a Dem vice president is available to break ties, they would have to hold the Repubs to a net gain of three seats out of 33 Senate races around the country.
Here’s the really bad, permanent, 2012 problem for the Dems. Of the 33 seats that are up this year, they hold 23 and the Repubs just 10, which means the Dems have to defend more than three times as many seats. To put it more dramatically, among the 67 senators who are sure to back in 2013 (because their seat isn’t even up this year) the Repubs have 37, the Dems have 30.
The Dems also have seven of their incumbents retiring this year compared with just two for the Repubs. On that list of Dem retirees are several very red states (North Dakota, where Dem. Sen. Kent Conrad is retiring is the leading example) where analysts figure the Repubs start the year with a huge advantage.
Rothenberg is the kind of all-politics geek who puts out a rating on every race across the country. Looking at the whole picture (nine months before the election) Rothenberg opines today that the best hope the Dems have of maintaining control of the Senate depends less on defending their own most vulnerable incumbents and more on picking up the seats in Massachusetts, (now held by freshman Sen. Scott Brown, who in 2010 won a special election to serve out the remainder of Ted Kennedy’s Term) and freshman Sen. Dean Heller (who was not elected at all but appointed to serve when Nevada Sen. John Ensign resigned in disgrace). Both have strong Dem challengers (U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley in Nevada and Harvard Prof. Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts).
Keep your eye on those two races as the year develops. Rothenberg concludes that the final determinant might be a more general sense of which way the partisan winds are blowing by November.
At the moment, the Repub “brand” is in the toilet. (This long analysis goes into the details of that toilet statement, although bear in mind it comes from a firm headed by Dem homeboys James Carville and Stan Greenberg. They seem to think it is part of a bigger, more durable trend. Others will say that once the Repubs settle on a presidential candidate, the party’s standing will improve in general. I guess we’ll see.)
Oh, and by the way. One recent poll showed Warren leading Brown slightly in Mass., but the most recent, just out, has Brown up by 9.