Preventing 60: Hope for Republicans may be two elections away

The Republican Party will fight like hell to keep the Democrats from getting to 60 seats in 2010. But if it doesn’t, it’ll have a good shot at bringing them back down in 2012.

After two straight elections of big losses, 2012 will give Senate Republicans a map full of opportunities, with 24 Democratic seats on the line and many of them in red or swing states.

The Democrats up include five members who will be 77 years of age or older, five who represent states that went for Sen. John McCainJohn McCainArmed Services chairman unveils .1B Asia-Pacific security bill Overnight Defense: Trump scolds NATO allies over spending | Flurry of leaks worries allies | Senators rip B Army 'debacle' | Lawmakers demand hearing on Saudi arms deal The case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers MORE (R-Ariz.) last year and 10 completing their first full term in the chamber.

Republicans are looking forward to 2012 — and not just because they’ll have a chance to win back the White House.

“In 2012, their goal is to get Democrats back under 60,” said Jennifer Duffy of The Cook Political Report. “With 24 seats, the mathematical odds are pretty good.”

On the flip side, a lopsided six-year cycle that had half of Republican seats up in 2008 and 19 more in 2010 will leave just nine to be defended in 2012.

About the only feasible GOP targets available are Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) and possibly the seat left by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who is likely running for governor.

The map is left that way because of a disastrous 2006 cycle in which the Iraq war, GOP scandals and other factors conspired to send six GOP incumbents to defeat. Democrats took at least seven seats in 2008, but the field of opportunities was much larger.

Brian Nick, a Republican consultant who was at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) when the bad streak began, said the staff there was itching for a do-over with that set of races.

“When you’re in that kind of atmosphere, you absolutely want to have the election the next day,” Nick said. “I think a lot of people agree that 2012, for a variety of reasons, is going to be much better than we had in 2006.

“If you’re just looking at the Senate races, there’s ripe picking.”

The crop includes freshman Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillSanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Mnuchin: WH won't double-count economic growth Technology's role in human trafficking cannot be ignored MORE (D-Mo.), Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownAuthor of Hillbilly Elegy encouraged to run for Senate: report Overnight Finance: Trump moves to begin NAFTA talks | Dems press Treasury chief on taxes, Dodd-Frank | Biz leaders want tax changes to be permanent Mnuchin mum as Dems press for answers on tax reform, Dodd-Frank MORE (D-Ohio), Bob CaseyBob CaseyThe case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers GOP senators distance themselves from House ObamaCare repeal bill Dem lawmakers voice shock, outrage on Comey memo MORE Jr. (D-Pa.), Jon TesterJon TesterSanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Montana senator on Gianforte: Dealing with media ‘part of the job’ Senators pan WH proposal to cut airport security programs, hike ticket fees MORE (D-Mont.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharCruz: Jokes about me in Franken's book 'obnoxious' The Hill's 12:30 Report Dem senators accuse Trump of purposefully holding back information MORE (D-Minn.), all of whom could be top targets.

Democrats also might have to deal with open seats left by Sens. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), who would be 95; Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), who would be 88; Edward Kennedy (Mass.), who would be 80; Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinThe case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Feinstein: Comey memos 'going to be turned over' MORE (Calif.), who would be 79; and Herb Kohl (Wis.), who would be 77.

{mospagebreak}Byrd and Kennedy have both encountered health problems of late, and Kennedy’s brain cancer has already spurred talk about what happens in his absence. Massachusetts would prove difficult for the GOP, with ambitious Democrats having prepped for the vacancy for years, but West Virginia would surely be a top target, having gone for McCain by double digits.

Akaka surprised some by running in 2006, and he turned away a fierce primary from then-Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), 54-45. Case is back in the public eye, running for the state’s other House seat in 2010, and he and outgoing GOP Gov. Linda Lingle could pose significant threats.

Feinstein could also run for governor in 2010, leaving an open seat.

Another seat held by a potential senator-turned-governor — Hutchison’s — is one of the few potential takeovers Democrats will have.

Sources said the party is definitely looking to go after Ensign and Kyl, a pair of missed opportunities from 2006. Both won by double digits, but thanks to demographic shifts will be representing very different states in three years.

Hutchison hasn’t made it clear when she would resign her Senate seat. She is up for reelection in 2012, but has suggested she would leave the chamber early to focus on a 2010 run for governor. The Democrats’ proximity to 60 seats has made that more difficult, though.

Republicans could have retirements in Indiana (Richard Lugar) or Utah (Orrin HatchOrrin HatchGOP leaders launch internal review into leak Insurers: GOP should keep pre-existing condition protections DOJ pitches agreements to solve international data warrant woes MORE), but both men have remained active senators and Lugar already has a 2012 campaign website up.

The right-tilting map aside, two large factors remain to be determined: the presidential race and redistricting.

Unlike 2006, Republicans will have a national race to assist them at the top of the ballot in states like Missouri, Montana and West Virginia. Ohio and Pennsylvania both went for President Obama in 2008 but could go red if Obama and the Democrats struggle.

The presidential race should also help Republican Sens. Bob CorkerBob CorkerA retreat from the Paris climate pact would imperil U.S. interests Cohn: US ‘probably looking to get tougher’ on Russia The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Tenn.) and Roger WickerRoger WickerIndustry pushes lawmakers to build 355-ship Navy GOP senators on Comey firing: Where they stand United Airlines grilled at Senate hearing MORE (Miss.), who won their seats in difficult open-seat races but represent red states.

Duffy also noted that several Senate races could be shaped by redistricting.

“Redistricting in states that gain and lose seats tends to have an impact on Senate races — especially if somebody gets pushed out,” said Duffy, who called the decision for some members “up or out.”

A good example is Minnesota, where the legislature is controlled by Democrats and the state is expected to lose a House seat. If Democrats win the governorship and control the process, a Republican could get squeezed out of its congressional delegation and look to take on Klobuchar.

Similar situations could occur in Missouri, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which are also expected to lose seats and have Democratic senators up in 2012.