There are 33 senate seats up in 2012. Currently Democrats have a narrow majority of 53 (that’s including two independents). However, out of those 33 seats that will be contested in 2012 are 23 Democratic seats and only 10 Republican seats. This map shows the states that will have Senate elections in 2012, with red being seats currently held by Republicans, and blue being seats currently held by Democrats:
Now here’s a map of overall political leanings by state. Red means solid Republican, orange means leans Republican, light blue means leans Democrat, and dark blue means solid Democrat.
See the problem? In the first map, you notice a bunch of states that are blue, and not so many that are red. If you compare the first map to the second map, you’ll notice that quite a number of those blue states on the first map are red or orange on the second. How can this be? They were the aftermath of the sweeping results of the 2006 election, which brought Democrats to power in many traditionally Republican areas. With the public angry over the economic situation in the country, and the Democratic majority being so slim in the Senate, losing the Senate is a very likely possibility.
There are only a handful of states that Democrats can possibly take from Republicans, which could help ease their losses. These are Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada. In Maine, Olympia Snowe is running for re-election. After her colleague Susan Collins’ strong victory in 2008, it seems as though the only thing that could unseat this moderate Republican would be a primary defeat to a Tea Party member, as close to 60% of Maine Republicans are saying they would rather support a more conservative challenger. However, such a challenger has not yet appeared, and unless one does this seat will remain Republican (although some may call it “Republican in name only”).
Massachusetts is a different story. This has been a solidly Democratic state for years, and Scott Brown only took office in 2010 after a special election following the death of popular Senator Ted Kennedy. Scott Brown still has strong support, and will only be unseated if a strong Democratic candidate emergees. It is possible, and it’s too early to predict anything for this seat.
Nevada is where Democrats have the highest hopes of winning at least one new seat. Democrats held on to Reid’s Nevada seat last year, when many other Democrats were unseated. The resignation of former Senator John Ensign vacated the seat temporarily and creates more hopes for Democrats. Dean Heller, who took over Ensign’s vacated seat, is running for re-election against Representative Shelley Berkley. Although Heller started off well, his support has dwindled since the start of the year and the odds are now favoring Berkley.
What of the Democratic seats? Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, Florida, Virginia and Ohio are all vulnerable. Nebraska and North Dakota losses are almost certain at this time. Montana is a true tossup, as incumbent Jon Tester is somehow still keeping on to the narrow plurality that he won by in 2006. Tim Kaine, who is leading the Democratic primary polls in Virginia, also has a slight lead in general election polls. Missouri is yet another close race, as incumbent Claire McCaskill will likely lose his lead in the polls as Republicans group behind a single candidate. Ohio and Florida, although swing states, are probably going to remain Democratic unless the political climate gets much worse for Democrats soon.
As for the other seats, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are all possibly weak Democratic seats, but they’re probably going to hold. Senator Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania has been comfortably leading every poll, despite a (narrow) Republican senate pickup in that state last year. In Wisconsin, incumbent Senator Herb Kohl’s retirement is making this more competitive, although all likely Democratic nominees are still polling very strongly in the state. West Virginia depends on the nominee, but it’s also likely that Democrat Joe Manchin will stay in office.
What does this mean? It means that Democrats will probably pick up one new Senate seat, and maybe a second. However, they’re certainly going to lose at least two (North Dakota and Nebraska), and I’d also say that they’re going to lose Missouri and Montana, and possibly Virginia. Virginia I’m still writing as a Democratic hold, so my final say is that it’s looking like a 50-50 Senate split at the moment, although with odds being stronger for a Republican majority than a Democratic one.