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Tough math in 2012

Denied the Senate majority by Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.), incompetent Tea Party candidates in places like Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware and Nevada, the GOP will get a second crack at the prize in 2012.

With the caveat that much can and will change in two years, Republicans today are looking at a favorable map. Only 10 Republicans face reelection, compared to 21 Democrats and two independents caucusing with them. 

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One of those independents, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, has seen his last Senate term. Recent numbers from Public Policy Polling (PPP) show him to be easily the most unpopular senator in the country. The only question is whether he retires or goes down in defeat at the ballot box. 

The most popular senator in the country, according to PPP, is Maine’s Olympia Snowe (R). Ironically, she is the second most endangered. Maine Republicans have taken a dramatic rightward turn, and there’s no chance she’ll survive a Republican primary. An independent or even Democratic bid would suit her best, as she remains most popular in her state among that set. So far, she is staying put.

Few other Republicans could be considered endangered. Aside from Snowe, there’s Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who saw his state revert to its solidly Democratic ways this November. He either becomes President Obama’s favorite Republican — and faces a Tea Party-fueled primary — or he sticks with DeMint and becomes a one-third-term senator. John Ensign of Nevada won’t be around in 2013. He’ll likely be taken out in a primary, but even if he survives, the seat will be fiercely contested. Arizona’s Jon Kyl could face difficulties if his state’s Latino community engages. 

Utah’s Orrin Hatch and Indiana’s Richard Lugar will likely face early retirement courtesy of the Tea Party, but those seats will remain in GOP hands.

On the other side, we can slot Nebraska’s Ben Nelson’s seat into the GOP column. No way he survives. The other Nelson — Bill in Florida — will be playing defense in a state that trended heavily against Democrats this November. 

Debbie Stabenow in Michigan has a tough 38-50 approve/disapprove rating, according to recent PPP polling. She’ll be a tough hold, as will Missouri freshman Claire McCaskill, with an even rougher 40-53 approval rating. Three other freshmen Dems — Montana’s Jon Tester, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and Virginia’s Jim Webb — will be prime targets. Republicans dominated all five states this year.

Will Kent Conrad run again in North Dakota? Even if he does, survival will be tough. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin won his state’s special election this year against a terrible candidate. How will he fare in a presidential year against top-notch competition? He won’t get a pass. Herb Kohl just saw his colleague Russ Feingold get the boot in Wisconsin, and he’ll face similarly tough opposition. And I’m not resting easy if I’m Bob Casey in Pennsylvania.

Jeff Bingaman in New Mexico, Dianne Feinstein in California and Maria Cantwell in Washington state all sport solid approval numbers, but much can change. 

At the end of the day, Democrats have a realistic shot at Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine, if Snowe is primaried into oblivion. They might have an outside shot in Arizona. Beyond that? Bleak.

Republicans will likely pick up Nebraska, and have top-tier pickup opportunities in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and maybe even Pennsylvania.

For the Democrats, the tough math is the price they’ll pay for their sweeping (and oftentimes narrow) wins in 2006.

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos and author of American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right.