Senior Republicans aren’t banking on Senate takeover

Senior Senate Republicans are not optimistic about their chances of capturing the upper chamber in the midterms and have not put together a legislative strategy in case it happens. 

While House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) has started to plan how he would run the lower chamber if he became Speaker, Senate Republicans dismiss their ascendancy to power as a long shot. 

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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) would have his pick of chairing the Finance, Judiciary or Budget panels. But he has not given much thought to the legislative policies he would push as chairman, because he thinks the chance of Republicans winning control is almost zero. 

“I haven’t thought about it,” Grassley said. “I think it’s a very slim possibility.”

Grassley hasn’t even thought about what committee he would chair if Republicans captured the Senate. 

“I would wait until November to make a decision,” he said. 

Senate Democrats will count 59 seats in their majority after West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) appoints a successor to the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). Republicans control 41 seats. 

Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, has mused about how he might run the panel with jurisdiction over the financial-services industry. But those thoughts haven’t turned into any concrete plans. 

“I have a lot of thoughts, but they’re not crystallized. We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” Shelby said. “The trends look good at the moment, but to take control of the Senate is a heavy lift.”

Shelby said taking back control of the Senate is more difficult than winning the House because only a third of the 100 senators face reelection in November. All 435 members of the House must face voters this year. 

Republicans would have to pick up 10 seats, winning three times as many Senate races as Democrats, to become the majority party in the Senate. Thirty-seven Senate seats are up for reelection this year. Republicans would have to win 28 of the races to take control of the chamber. 

If Republicans were to perform a minor miracle and flip control of the Senate, lawmakers would have to scramble to figure out what to do with their new power. 

Shelby said he would use the Banking gavel to restrict the government regulations that are likely to be authorized by the Wall Street reform bill. 

“I would first be looking at the oversight of this so-called financial reform package and see what’s wrong with it, which I think a lot of things are,” Shelby said. “That would be one thing we would really look at, but you can’t really plan an agenda yet.” 

Shelby said he would also scrutinize the actions of the Federal Reserve, which many conservatives say has become emblematic of the power of unelected government officials to shape fiscal policy.

Shelby said he would discuss his concerns on Thursday when the Banking Committee considers three nominees to the Federal Reserve Board. They are Janet Yellen, who was tapped to serve as vice chairwoman, and Peter Diamond and Sarah Bloom Raskin, who were nominated to serve as members. 

Republican political strategists acknowledge the chances for capturing the Senate are not as good as winning the House but say the possibility exists. 

“Just as Robert Gibbs has looked at the math and made clear that the Democrats have a real possibility of losing the House, many others including ourselves have looked at the math and see it’s clear the Senate is very much in play for Republicans,” said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “It wasn’t at the start of the cycle.”

In March of 2009, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rated only two Democratic-held seats as toss-ups between the parties. It rated the rest as “lean Democratic,” “likely Democratic” or “solid Democratic.”

This month, Cook updated its ratings and placed six Democratic seats in the toss-up column. It rated three others — in Indiana, Delaware and North Dakota — as more likely to be won by Republican candidates. 

Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the Cook Report, said Republicans could capture the Senate if the anti-Democratic wave turns into a tsunami.

“If the wave is big enough, they could carry all those states,” Duffy said.

She predicted a GOP gain of four to six seats is more likely. 

“This is going to be one of those elections that sort of proves the old adage that candidates and campaigns matter,” she said. “If the wave is there and not huge then Republicans have the states where they didn’t get strong candidates.”

Duffy said these states, such as Nevada, could help Democrats keep control. 

Sen. Kit Bond (Mo.), the senior Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Republican voters are fired up in his home state. But he thinks it will likely take two elections to wrest control from Democrats. 

“I hope by 2013 it happens, but I’m certainly not going to be on it for 2011,” said Bond, who will retire at the end of this year.