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Two key Senate races to watch

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.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/17/2012 - 12:35 pm.

    $5 gasoline

    If the icon of Massachusetts liberalism, Elizabeth Warren, can’t defeat the wishy-washy Scott Brown and win back Ted Kennedy’s old seat, then the “repub brand is in the toilet” meme is definitely bogus. That this champion of the nanny state is behind Brown in the polls is telling.

    Carville and Greenberg’s analysis is whistling past the graveyard and doesn’t take into account how people will react to $5 a gallon gasoline this summer and who will get blamed for it.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/17/2012 - 04:39 pm.

      Dennis, saying it is so doesn’t make it so;

      Warren is ahead. It’s close, but she has passed Brown

      As for $ 5.00 gasoline, it’s pitiful how much the Republicans are salivating over increased oil prices.

      You may want to blame Obama for tight oil supplies, but oil production was in steady decline during the Bush2 administration and only started to rise during the Obama administration. In fact, by the end of the second Obama administration US production is expected to be higher than the Bush Senior adminstration production levels.

      But hey, what are facts in the face of baseless assertions…

      See the Houston Chronicle article which says combined production between US and Canada are expected to exceed ALL previous production records by the end of the second Obama administration (that’s 2016 to you).

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/17/2012 - 07:10 pm.


      One might look at which party receives the most oil company money.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/17/2012 - 08:30 pm.

      Oil prices

      Or, even more likely, gas will go to $10.00/gallon and the world economy shuts down courtesy of an attack on Iran by Israel. Now which set of politicians who have been pushing that conflict would get the blame?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/18/2012 - 10:12 am.

      $5 Gas

      In Germany, gas is currently $8.35 a gallon.
      This doesn’t seem to be hurting the German economy, which right now is doing better than ours.
      The answer is greater automotive fuel efficiency (ever driven in Europe?).

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/17/2012 - 02:32 pm.

    The 60%

    Since it takes 60 votes to actually pass anything in the Senate under current Senate rules (not stated in the Constitution), I’m not sure this is as vital as it sounds.
    The Democrats do not -control- the Senate now.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/19/2012 - 10:35 am.

    Rothenburgs’s record?

    Just out of curiosity, what’s Rothenburg’s record? Have his past predictions been reliable?

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/19/2012 - 10:39 am.

    Oil prices?

    This is funny anyways, during the Bush Administration oil went from $32 a barrel to $140 a barrel at it’s highest and the Republicans didn’t think it was Bush’s fault. If they want to compare a 400% increase to a 25% increase and blame it Obama… go at it I say.

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