Heading into the 2012 cycle, the Senate looked brutal for Democrats. The majority party had 23 seats up for grabs, compared to just 10 for Republicans. The GOP’s incumbents were mostly in safe territory, while Democrats had to defend a disproportionate number of seats in battleground or hostile territory.
Thus, the question last year wasn’t whether Republicans would make gains, but whether Democrats would hold on to their six-seat majority. Nobody is asking that anymore.
Top-tier GOP challengers in Florida, Hawaii, Michigan and New Mexico fizzled, while tens of millions of dollars in super-PAC attack ads did little to damage freshman Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownDemocrats tamp down talk of shutdown McConnell tries to reassure Dems as shutdown nears Senate Democrats dig in as shutdown approaches MORE (D) in Ohio against his joke opponent.
Free-spending conservative millionaires have made Connecticut and Pennsylvania surprisingly competitive, yet Democrats retain smallish but comfortable advantages in those states. In Wisconsin, Rep. Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinSenate Dems offer bill to curb tax break for Trump nominees Fight over water bill heats up in Senate Overnight Finance: Funding bill expected tonight | Trump takes on Boeing | House rejects push for IRS impeachment vote | Dow hits new high MORE (D) is clinging to a tiny advantage thanks to former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s (R) incompetent campaigning and lack of cash.
That leaves 2006’s closest Senate races: In Montana, freshman incumbent Jon TesterJon TesterRed-state Dems face tough votes on Trump picks Montana Republican warns of Senate challenge to Tester Vulnerable Dems ready to work with Trump MORE (D) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) have been tied the entire cycle and will go down to the wire. But in Virginia, what was a neck-and-neck race is now a clear Democratic advantage for Democratic former Gov. Tim KaineTim KaineGOP eyes big gamble on ObamaCare Senate Democrats dig in as shutdown approaches Clinton reappears on Capitol Hill for Reid send-off MORE over the guy who lost this seat six years ago, George “Macaca” Allen.
Thus, Democrats might lose as little as one seat, and at most four (Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin). They’re also playing more offense than expected.
Establishment Democrats were afraid to take on accidental Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) early this cycle. Now Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDodd-Frank ripe for reform, not repeal Senate Dems offer bill to curb tax break for Trump nominees Pressure grows on Perez to enter DNC race MORE is poised to easily win the seat next Tuesday. And in Maine, the surprise retirement of Olympia Snowe (R) has opened the way for left-leaning Independent Angus KingAngus KingBudowsky: Did Putin elect Trump? This Week in Cybersecurity: Dems press for information on Russian hacks Angus King: Trump's not draining swamp, he's adding alligators MORE to pick up the seat.
In addition to those sure pickups, Democrats have remained stubbornly competitive, thanks in large part to the Latino vote, in Arizona and Nevada. In Arizona, former Surgeon General Richard Carmona and Republican Rep. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeReid bids farewell to the Senate Reid defends relationship with McConnell in farewell speech Graham, Durbin 'encouraged' by Trump's comments on Dreamers MORE have both hovered around 45 percent of the vote in the polling aggregate. Meanwhile, appointed incumbent Dean HellerDean HellerReid bids farewell to the Senate Reid defends relationship with McConnell in farewell speech Governments and businesses: Teaming up for taxpayers MORE’s slight polling advantage against Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley might be a mirage: In 2010, Sen. Harry ReidHarry ReidEmanuel flips the bird when asked about 2020 Feinstein after dinner with Clinton: She has 'accepted' her loss Clintons remember John Glenn as a 'uniquely American hero' MORE (D) trailed in pre-election polling by 2.7 points in the RealClearPolitics polling aggregate. He won his race by 5.6 points. Obama outperformed the state’s aggregate polling by 6 points in 2008. If pollsters haven’t learned to better poll Nevada, Berkley might yet pull through.
Which leaves Indiana, where conservative primary voters exchanged longtime entrenched incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar for ideologue teabagger Richard Mourdock. The Republican has proven as crazy as Todd Akin, stating in a debate last week that a rape pregnancy was a gift from God. Yet another Republican’s bizarre beliefs about rape have made this a genuine Democratic pickup, despite Indiana’s red demographics.
Tally it up and the most likely outcome for Democrats is between losing two seats and gaining four, or between a 51-49 Democratic Senate (including independents) and a 57-43 one. In other words, the Senate GOP really botched 2012.
Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)