The Rothenberg Political Report just updated its ranking of all 33 Senate races that will be on the 2012 ballot. The result is slightly more optimistic for Democrats’ chance of hanging onto bare control of the Senate in 2013.
To cut to the chase, Rothenberg lists only four Senate races as pure toss-ups. If all the other races were to go the way Rothenberg has them leaning, and the parties were to split the four toss-ups two apiece, the Dems would start 2013 with the barest 51-49 majority.
One big improvement for the Dems is the situation in Maine since moderate Republican Olympia Snowe announced her surprise decision to retire. The current frontrunner for that seat is former Gov. Angus King, who is an independent and who has refused to disclose whether he would caucus with the Dems or the Repubs. But Rothenberg apparently believes King would sit with the Dem caucus. If so, although King might become the least reliable Dem vote on many issues, he would nonetheless be their 51st vote on the organization of the Senate, which would leave the Dems in place as chairs of all the committees and would leave Harry Reid as majority leader.
The Dems start the year with a small 53-47 majority and the unenviable privilege of defending 23 of the 33 seats that are up this year. (That’s the price they pay for having had a huge year in 2006 and picking up several hard-to-hold seats in reddish states.
You can look at the rest of Rothenberg’s rankings here. (Yes, he rates Amy Klobuchar’s seat as “safe Democratic.”)
Of course 51-49 scenario I described above is based on the silly assumption that the four toss-ups will be split evenly. Historically, the really close races tend to go more one way or the other depending on the way the late winds are blowing. Here are the four toss-ups on Rothenberg’s list:
Massachusetts, a very blue state where Repub Sen. Scott Brown nonetheless won a special election in 2010 to serve out Ted Kennedy’s term. He faces a strong challenge from Harvard Prof. Elizabeth Warren. The last four public polls featured two with Brown leading and two with Warren leading.
Montana, where freshman Dem. Sen. Jon Tester is one of those upset winners in a red state from 2006. The most recent public polls have had his Repub challenger, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, ahead but just barely.
Nevada, a purplish state where Repub Dean Heller is an unelected incumbent who was appointed to fill out the term of the disgraced John Ensign. He faces Dem congresswoman Shelley Berkely, who trailed by three percentage points in the most recent poll.
And Virginia, a pinkish state. Incumbent Dem Jim Webb is retiring. The man Webb beat six years ago, Repub George Allen, is attempting a comeback. The Dem nominee is former Virginia governor, former DNC chair and Obama pal Tim Kaine. The last four polls have gone two each way, but the most recent had Allen up by a fairly commanding seven percentage points.