2012 looks like another wasted opportunity for Republicans to retake the Senate. As in 2010, Tea Party candidates are likely to cost the GOP two Senate seats. What started off as a better than 50/50 chance for Republicans to pick up the four seats needed for a majority has deteriorated into a debacle in which they may actually lose seats.
From the start of the campaign season it appeared that Republicans were in danger of losing Maine and Massachusetts while Democrats were almost certain to lose North Dakota and Nebraska. The GOP also had favorable chances to pick-up Missouri, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Montana. Republicans held an outside shot at picking up seats in Florida, Ohio, and Michigan where Democratic incumbents were polling poorly. Democrats had few viable options for additional pick-ups other than some wishful thinking in Nevada, Arizona, and Indiana.
Over the past couple of months the Senate landscape has shifted sharply to the Democrats. The unpopular Democratic incumbents now appear safe in Ohio, Florida, and Michigan. In Wisconsin, Republican Tommy Thompson still has a chance to win, but his lethargic primary campaign turned into a lethargic general campaign and he now trails in the polls. Virginia is still close, but Democrat Tim Kaine holds a small edge over Republican George Allen.
The biggest blow to the GOP came through the unforced errors made by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. While neither Republican was considered a top-shelf candidate, their comments on rape transformed their respective races and put both men’s opponents in a strong position.
Our projection is that the Senate will retain its current make-up of 53 Democrats (including 2 Independents) and 47 Republicans, although a strong Republican turnout could allow candidates like Linda McMahon in Connecticut or George Allen in Virginia to eke out narrow victories.
Current Senate make-up- Democrats 53, Republicans 47.
Seats not up for re-election – Republicans 37, Democrats 30.
Likely/Safe Democrat (13)- California, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont (I), Washington, West Virginia.
Lean Democrat (10)- Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin.
Lean Republican (5)- Arizona, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota.
Likely/Safe Republican (5)- Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wyoming
Arizona: Expect Flake to hold on. Carmona was strong on paper, but lack of campaign experience hurt.
Connecticut: Democrat Chris Murphy is a very slight favorite. However, this is one race that Sandy might tip. Low turnout should favor Linda McMahon.
Florida: Voters want to replace the Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, but Connie Mack IV just never proved to be a viable alternative.
Indiana: Republicans nominated Richard Mourdock over longtime incumbent Dick Lugar. The race was tight throughout the summer before Mourdock decided to comment on rape and abortion. The fact that Mourdock is releasing internal polling that only shows him tied does not bode well. Donnelly should win by a couple of points.
Massachusetts: Scott Brown did everything right and was aided by a mediocre campaign effort from Elizabeth Warren. The state is just too blue for a Republican to win in a Presidential election year.
Missouri: Todd Akin handed the seat to Claire McCaskill. The Libertarian, Jonathan Dine, gives voters who can’t stomach either candidate an outlet.
Montana: Might be the closest race of the election. Expect Denny Rehberg to hold on by a few hundred votes.
Nebraska: Should have been an easy lock for the GOP, but Bob Kerrey has been making a late comeback against his Tea Party opponent. Deb Fischer should still win by at least five points.
Nevada: Shelley Berkley has remained surprisingly competitive despite her ethics problems. Recent polling has placed Dean Heller on fairly firm footing, although Nevada’s traditionally strong Democratic turnout could allow Berkley to pull of the upset.
North Dakota: Another race the GOP should have locked up long ago. Expect the Republican, Rick Berg, to eke it out given the Republican lean of the state.
Virginia: George Allen had a shot, but his decision to ignore Northern Virginia will cost him. Tim Kaine’s margin of victory in the D.C suburbs should give him a three point win.
Wisconsin: Voter don’t like either candidate. They think Tommy Thompson is too much of a Washington product and Tammy Baldwin is too liberal. Wisconsin’s slight Democratic lean should give Baldwin a very small win.