Can Republicans Win the Senate?
With yesterday's easy primary victory by Mark Kirk in IL, and with the news that former Sen. Dan Coats will leave his lobbying gig to take on Evan Bayh in IN, Republicans are now getting excited about the possibility of retaking the Senate this November.
They should probably chill a bit. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post breaks down the ten Democratic seats Republicans would have to win--without losing any of their own--to regain control of the Senate. And while anything's possible if this turns out to be a "wave" election, running this particular table will be very difficult.
To start with the least likely Republican victories, Chris Dodd's retirement makes Democratic attorney general Richard Blumenthal a solid front-runner in CT. Republicans must negotiate a difficult primary and then take on one of the most popular politicians in recent Nutmeg State history. Similarly, CA Republicans must get through a tough primary before taking on Sen. Barbara Boxer, one of the more popular politicians in a state that really hates its politicians (in both parties) these days.
Bayh will hardly be an easy mark The never-defeated former Boy Wonder of Hoosier politics, he's sitting on $13 million in campaign cash, and has a history of winning big in good Republican years. Meanwhile, Coats has to deal with bad publicity over his ten years of DC lobbying work, including representation of banks and equity firms. And he's been voting in Virginia, not Indiana, all that time.
A lot of Republicans seem to be assuming that Mark Kirk will win easily in IL. Only problem is: he's currently trailing Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias in early polls, and will also have to explain some major flip-flops he executed to survive his primary.
I'm probably not the only observer in either party who remains skeptical that former Club for Growth chieftain Pat Toomey is going to win in PA against the eventual winner of the Sestak-Specter primary. Toomey is certainly the kind of guy who will make sure that intra-Democratic wounds heal quickly.
And then there are states which are absolute crapshoots at this point, such as CO, where either appointed Senator Michael Bennet or former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff will probably face former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. The same is true of an open Republican seat in MO, where Democrat Robin Carnahan has been running essentially even with Roy Blunt.
Republican open seats in NH, OH, and KY are hardly safe for the GOP, either.
All in all, it would take a odds-defying "wave" indeed to deliver the Senate to Republicans. And by the very nature of Senate races, which match high-profile politicians usually well known to voters, "waves" are less likely to control outcomes than in House races. The only real precedent for what GOPers are dreaming of came in 1980, with Republicans improbably won every single close race.
In many respects, the Senate landscape will be much improved for Republicans in 2012. But then we will be dealing with a presidential year, different (and more favorable for Democrats) turnout patterns, and the little problem that the Republican presidential field doesn't look that exciting (with the possible exception of Sarah Palin, who's a little too exciting).