A Republican-controlled Senate in 2012 looks less likely than it did a few weeks ago, but the prospect for GOP gains is still quite solid.
Of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs this cycle, seven are occupied by Democrats or Democrat-leaning independents who are not seeking reelection, three are occupied by Republicans who are not seeking reelection, 16 are occupied by Democrats seeking reelection, and seven are occupied by Republicans seeking reelection. This is the class of senators last elected in 2006, a midterm election that almost could not have gone worse for the GOP.
A few recent developments may indicate good news for Republicans, however. Last week the House voted to repeal the IPAB portion of Obamacare, a 15-member panel that will, beginning in the 2015 fiscal year, make binding recommendations for cost-cutting in Medicare treatment. This is the potentially care-denying, unelected authority that some Republicans characterize as “death panels.” Four House Democrats running for the Senate this cycle — Shelley Berkley of Nevada, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — all voted in support of IPAB. On paper, this represented a risk-free way for these Democrats to distance themselves from one of Obamacare’s more controversial provisions; instead, all four doubled down in support of the least popular part of the law.
Also, the issue environment — high unemployment, high gas prices, dissatisfaction with the direction of the country and Washington specifically — continues to be threatening for incumbents in presidential swing states, particularly Missouri, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Here’s a rundown of how things look today.
ALMOST RESOLVED ALREADY
NEBRASKA: “Bob Kerrey is probably the highest polling New Yorker to ever run for office in Nebraska at 38 percent,” dryly observes one GOP race-watcher. Kerrey’s inability to make the race competitive already has cheered Republicans, but some strategists are speculating that Democratic donors will end up dumping a lot of money and resources in this uphill battle before triaging funds to more winnable races.
Still, credit the Democrats; they needed a warm body when incumbent senator Ben Nelson announced his retirement after Christmas, and they found one in Kerrey. But Public Policy Polling recently found Kerrey trailing all of his potential GOP competitors by double digits: State attorney general Jon Bruning leads 54–37, state treasurer Don Stenberg leads 52–38, and State Senator Deb Fischer 48–38.
NORTH DAKOTA: One should never count one’s chickens before they hatch, and all of the standard caveats apply. But Democrats had a thin bench when Byron Dorgan announced his retirement more than a year ago, and former North Dakota attorney general Heidi Heitkamp is their only candidate. At the end of 2011, she faced a 10-to-1 cash-on-hand gap with the likely Republican nominee, Representative Rick Berg. North Dakota has only one congressional district, and so Berg has already won statewide, beating incumbent Democrat Earl Pomeroy in a 2010 House race, 55 percent to 45 percent.