By J. Taylor Rushing - 11/04/10 01:03 AM EDT
For the first time in two cycles, Democrats will have more seats up for grabs than the Republicans, and the party could see its shrunken majority erased altogether.
Several of the senators up for reelection came in on the 2006 Democratic wave, when the party picked up six GOP seats and won control of the chamber.
And two senators who won special elections Tuesday, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), will face voters again in two years.
Democrats lost at least six Senate seats Tuesday, with results in Washington and Alaska undetermined as of press time, but they retained control.
That could change in two years, when Democrats have 21 seats up for grabs, compared to only 10 for Republicans. Also up for reelection are Sens. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.), the two Independents who caucus with Democrats — meaning the party has a total of 23 seats to defend.
“The numbers are really working against them, no question about it,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior Senate analyst at The Cook Political Report. “It will come down to what it always comes down to: retirements and recruiting.”
Many of those Democratic seats up next cycle are in purple or red states, including those of McCaskill, Manchin, Tester, Webb and Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.).
Webb saw several House Democrats in his state lose reelection Tuesday, and McCaskill saw her party lose a Senate pickup opportunity when Roy Blunt (R) won retiring Sen. Kit Bond’s (R-Mo.) seat.
Some senators could opt to retire in 2012. Among those observers will be watching are Ben Nelson and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.).Nelson is expected to face a difficult race, and Kohl saw his home-state colleague, Sen. Russ Feingold (D), lose on Tuesday.
Casey and Conrad also saw Democratic colleagues lose in their home states on Tuesday. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who’s up in 2012, watched fellow California Democrat Barbara Boxer fend off a tough challenge from the GOP.
“It is certainly true that the landscape will be tilted in 2012 in terms of the seats at risk,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report. “[Democrats] will be defending more seats, so they could have more losses. On the other hand, it depends on the mood of the public.”
The other Democratic incumbents up next cycle are Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Tom Carper (Del.), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.).
The 10 GOP senators facing reelection are John Barrasso (Wyo.), Scott Brown (Mass.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), John Ensign (Nev.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Roger Wicker (Miss.).
Of that list, the only senator who could be considered in a “dangerous” position is Brown, who represents Massachusetts, a blue state.
Hutchison could retire. She ran for Texas governor in 2010 but lost in the GOP primary. At the time, Hutchison hinted she could resign her seat; she never committed to running again in 2012.
Ensign could leave the Senate if he faces charges stemming from the fallout of an affair he had with a former staffer.
An unknown factor for the Republicans is the Tea Party. The grassroots movement took down several party favorites in GOP primaries this year and has threatened to do the same next cycle.
Already, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a Tea Party favorite, has said he’d consider challenging Hatch in the 2012 GOP primary.
Additionally, Republicans could always be doomed on pocketbook issues. If the economy rebounds, President Obama could be credited in the eyes of some voters. If it stays sluggish, voters could blame the GOP.
The top three Senate Democrats launched a strategy on that front on Wednesday, putting Republicans on notice that they expected cooperation now that the minority party is more powerful.
“We have made the message very clear that we want to work with Republicans,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “If they’re unwilling to work with us, there’s not a thing we can do about that, but the American people can see that like a very slow curveball.”
Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, notes that the Republican revolution of 1994, ushered in by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), dealt a major blow to President Clinton — though Clinton won reelection in 1996.
“My thesis is, we’re going to have a miserable two years, but this time not all the blame will go to the president,” Gans said. “Nobody knows what the climate will be in 2012.”
Rothenberg agreed, saying much depends on the messaging and issues that will dominate the political landscape over the next two years.
“There’s probably not likely to be as stark of a choice in 2012 as this year — however, it’s also true that most people think the president’s party runs things. It’s not as easy for Democrats to just say, ‘They share responsibility, too.’ ”