Future of Senate seems balanced on a pin

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.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Pete Barrett on 04/20/2012 - 02:39 pm.

    One More Variable

    The outcome of the Presidential election looms, in the event the Senate ends up 50-50.

  2. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 04/20/2012 - 03:18 pm.

    Party labels no longer matter for Progressives

    As we’ve seen throughout the past ten years, the filibuster rule as amended (so that one need not even actually filibuster any more) has made 60 votes the new threshold for any Progressive legislation to meet. Senators who call themselves “Democratic” like Joe Lieberman, Ben Campbell, Max Baucus and a number of others, are self-described centrists who only swing one way and that’s to the right to allow Republicans a pass and require only 50 votes for their bills. E.g. the pro-business, right wing “Bankruptcy Reform” Act in 2005 passed without any filibuster but Republicans shot down every single Democratic amendment. Until we have Senators who are not beholden to the 1% in this country, the Senate will always be a bastion of plutocracy and, as far as I’m concerned, an archaic and obsolete remnant of a Constitutional framework that is broken beyond repair.

    • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 04/20/2012 - 05:07 pm.

      Don’t say that about the Senate

      The Senate is structured just right. This is still the 18th century, right?

      • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 04/21/2012 - 09:03 pm.

        For many, it is, you’re right.

        I have small “thought experiment” to illustrate the point of the absurd and outlandish obsolescence of the Constitution to our society. Article V provides that:

        “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; . . ”

        Suppose a majority, no, let’s say 99% of the people agreed with me that the Senate ought to be written out of the Constitution and our government. Just eliminated. Of course, the Constitution provides no method of petition that anyone must honor. Anyway, the Senate is unlikely to approve a Constitutional amendment to eliminate itself from the Constitution or the government. The Constitution was approved in what, 1793? it was still the 18th century and before there were more than 13 states. The Constitution says it can be amended “on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States.” Is that two-thirds of the 13 states or is it two-thirds of the States at some undefined time in the future? Since the Founders, in their “wisdom”, also allowed for the admission of States in the future, this provision becomes on its face a farce and an illusion because, having stipulated to having a Senate in the first place as a condition of ratifying the Constitution, none of the 13 states who ratified the Constitution could even apply for such an amendment. Every State which applied for admission under the Constitution would be in the same position, having stipulated to an express provision which cannot be eliminated.

        It was once remarked by Justice Jackson of the Supreme Court that the Bill of Rights is not a “suicide pact.” I wonder if the Constitution might be described as a “suicide pact”?

        • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 04/22/2012 - 07:20 am.

          A Way Out

          If some hypothetical 99% wanted to disband the Senate, then it would only take 6 years for the populace to vote in a House and Senate that agreed with them. With a majority of that size, it wouldn’t be hard for them to quickly move through the amendment process and eliminate it. This should illustrate the quality of the Constitution, not a flaw.

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/23/2012 - 11:12 am.

            Good point

            but this assumes that the newly elected Senators would continue to want to put themselves out of a job once elected.

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