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Dems can hold Senate

The early 2012 conventional wisdom was that Republicans would easily take control of the Senate this November. It was a perfectly reasonable supposition — 23 Democratic seats are up for reelection, with the GOP defending just 10. Given that Republicans need a net pickup of only four seats for an outright majority, the numbers appeared to be squarely in their favor.  

But elections have a funny way of confounding even the surest predictions, and it’s increasingly evident that Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellWhy a bill about catfish will show whether Ryan's serious about regulatory reform Trump is right about one thing Winners, losers of GOP convention MORE might want to hold off on ordering those new business cards.

Six of the seats where Democrats are playing defense are in red states, and one of them is Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillWatchdog faults Energy Department over whistleblower retaliation Wagner passes on NRCC bid, backs Stivers Senate Dem: Trump will pick 'handsome' Pence MORE’s. McCaskill remains the most endangered Democratic incumbent, her hopes resting on a nasty GOP primary that might produce a weakened opponent. And in Nebraska, Democratic former Senator and Gov. Bob Kerrey trails badly, although he’s making Republicans spend money in a state they had chalked up in the win column just a few months ago.

But in North Dakota, where Republicans thought they had an easy pickup when Sen. Kent Conrad retired, former Attorney General Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampFeds weigh minimum train crew sizes Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Emerging technology-based consensus may help clear the air MORE leads in the early polling. And West Virginia’s Joe ManchinJoe ManchinNew Guccifer 2.0 dump highlights ‘wobbly Dems’ on Iran deal Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension Overnight Finance: Senate punts on Zika funding | House panel clears final spending bill | Biz groups press Treasury on tax rules | Obama trade rep confident Pacific deal passes this year MORE is headed toward an easy reelection after narrowly winning the seat in a 2010 special election. 

The final two Democratic seats in red states, Montana and Virginia, are both neck and neck — same as they were in 2006, when their outcome decided control of the Senate. We could see a repeat this November. 

Republicans have targeted open Democratic seats in New Mexico and Wisconsin, both fiercely competitive. However, Wisconsin will be far less competitive if Republican primary voters reject their best candidate, moderate former Gov. Tommy Thompson. 

Beyond that, Republican challenges to Democratic incumbents in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania all appear to be fizzling. Florida Republicans have failed to recruit a top-tier challenger to Sen. Bill NelsonBill NelsonMore automakers admit to equipping new cars with defective airbags GOP warming up to Cuba travel How the new aviation law will affect your travel MORE, who has commanding leads in polling. Ditto with Pennsylvania. In Michigan, former GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra cratered after airing a racist attack ad during the Super Bowl, and never recovered in his bid to unseat Sen. Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowDems to GOP: Admit Trump is 'unfit' to be president Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency GMO labeling bill good for both environment and the poor MORE. And in Ohio, no non-presidential candidate has faced more negative super-PAC money than Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownClinton VP pick could face liberal ire Why Kaine is the right choice for Clinton Clinton VP pick expected Friday MORE, yet he has weathered at least $5 million in attacks with limited erosion in support. 

As of today, that means the GOP is favored in two states and faces toss-up battles in perhaps five more. Remember, they only need four of those to win control, but that’s assuming they don’t lose any seats.

And make no mistake — the Democrats are also playing offense. 

There’s a real fight in Massachusetts, where Republican fluke Sen. Scott Brown is facing grassroots superstar Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenTrump tries to stoke liberal anger at Kaine pick Clinton VP pick could face liberal ire Obama, Warren tout six-year anniversary of Dodd-Frank MORE. In Maine, left-leaning independent and former Gov. Angus KingAngus KingClinton VP pick could face liberal ire Independent Sen. Angus King endorses Clinton McCain: Inaction on encryption 'furthering the cause of child pornographers' MORE is likely to capitalize on Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s retirement.

Democrats are also competitive in Nevada and Arizona, where changing demographics are transforming the political landscape. 

And then there’s Indiana, which really should be safely Republican. Yet conservatives gifted Democrats with an opening by ousting longtime incumbent Dick Lugar in the GOP primary. Democratic nominee Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyOvernight Finance: Senate punts on Zika funding | House panel clears final spending bill | Biz groups press Treasury on tax rules | Obama trade rep confident Pacific deal passes this year Overnight Healthcare: Lawmakers leave for summer without approving new Zika funds Dems block defense spending bill for second time MORE, a sacrificial lamb against Lugar, is even money against conservative darling Richard Mourdock. 

With Democrats in good position to take two Republican seats, and competitive in three more, it’s clear that the GOP’s path to the Senate majority is a whole lot more treacherous than it seemed a few short months ago.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).