The Democrats And The US Senate: Major Challenge For 2012

The Democrats face a major problem in 2012 regarding their control of the United States Senate.

With only 53 seats, including those of Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont; with 23 seats to be defended as compared to 10 for the Republicans; and with seven Democratic incumbents retiring, it will be a massive challenge to avoid losing the Senate, and also to avoid a major GOP landslide leading to their dominance over the Senate for the long term future.

Along with Senator Lieberman, the following Senators are retiring: Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Jim Webb of Virginia.

Only two Republican Senators are retiring: Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona.

The other 24 seats are being defended by incumbents–8 Republicans, 15 Democrats, and Independent Bernie Sanders.

Some of the seats for the Democrats are considered “safe”, but among those worrisome are: Bill Nelson of Florida, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Maria Cantwell of Washington, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The Republicans in trouble include: Richard Lugar of Indiana, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Orrin Hatch of Utah. Ironically, it is the Tea Party Movement which threatens the nomination for another term of Lugar, Snowe, and Hatch, who otherwise would probably be cinches for reelection, but if they lost the primaries in their states, the seats could go Democratic. Brown has a tough competitor in Elizabeth Warren in an extremely heavy Democratic state, which sees many “insulted” that a Republican, admittedly moderate, took over Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. Heller in Nevada has the tough Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, who represents much of Las Vegas, the bulk of the population of the state, opposing him in a difficult battle.

While a major victory by either candidate for President could turn the tide for other Senate seats, it is extremely unlikely that the Republican nominee could win by enough of a landslide to take away more Democratic seats, but an Obama landslide, not out of the realm of possibility, could have a dramatic effect on the final Senate totals.

The point is that IF the Republicans won all seven Democratic seats in danger and kept all their seats, they would have 54 members of the Senate to 45 Democrats and one Independent (Sanders).

On the other hand, IF the Democrats kept all their seats and won the five contested GOP seats, the Democrats would have 58 seats including Sanders, and the Republicans would have 42 seats.

So the swing of seats from 53-47 Democratic could be as much as 58-42 Democratic or 54–46 Republican. So the range could be 12 seats, and remember that this third of the Senate would remain there for six years, so whichever party gains seats could be dominant for the long term.

Of course, in theory, every seat defended could be victorious, but also the odds that all seven retired seats for the Democrats would go Democratic is very problematical. So in actuality, IF all seven Democratic seats went to the Republicans, it could be a true disaster as then at a maximum, there could be a division of 61-39 Republican in the Senate.

On the other hand, if the five contested GOP seats went Democratic plus the two retiree seats, and everything else worked out for the Democrats, highly unlikely, then they could have a 60-40 Democratic Senate!

So therefore, the swing could be seven maximum for the Democrats from what they have now, while the GOP could gain fourteen maximum.

In either case, there would be such dominance that it would affect the Senate for many elections to come, no matter what happens in 2014 and 2016, and affect the agenda of the next President in a positive or negative way!

2 comments on “The Democrats And The US Senate: Major Challenge For 2012

  1. D December 31, 2011 10:32 am

    So the swing of seats from 53–47 Democratic could be as much as 58–42 Democratic or 54–46 Republican. So the range could be 12 seats, and remember that this third of the Senate would remain there for six years, so whichever party gains seats could be dominant for the long term. —Ronald

    One thing professional pundits and prognosticators don’t tend to mention are historical voting patterns.

    Given that the citizenry has had direct elections of our United States Senators since the 1910s (17th Amendment; adopted in 1913), one should look at the past, nearly 100 years’ worth of election cycles in which majority control of either house of Congress flipped with the parties. (Those are indicated, in the list, with an *.) And one should relate those to the presidential results as well.

    Year [Election/s] | Presidential Winner | Prevailing Congressional Parties [Senate/House]
    1914 [Midterm] | Woodrow Wilson (D) | D/D
    1916 [Presidential/Congressional] | Wilson (D, re-elected) | D/D
    *1918 [Midterm] | Wilson (D) | R/R
    1920 [Presidential/Congressional] | Warren Harding (R, pickup) | R/R
    1922 [Midterm] | Harding | R/R
    1924 [Presidential/Congressional] | Calvin Coolidge (R, full term) | R/R
    1926 [Midterm] | Coolidge (R) | R/R
    1928 [Presidential/Congressional] | Herbert Hoover (R) | R/R
    *1930 [Midterm] | Hoover (R) | R/D
    *1932 [Presidential/Congressional] | Franklin Roosevelt (D, pickup; unseated Hoover) | D/D
    1934 [Midterm] | Roosevelt (D) | D/D
    1936 [Presidential/Congressional] | Roosevelt (D, re-elected) | D/D
    1938 [Midterm] | Roosevelt (D) | D/D
    1940 [Presidential/Congressional] | Roosevelt (D, re-elected) | D/D
    1942 [Midterm] | Roosevelt (D) | D/D
    1944 [Presidential/Congressional] | Roosevelt (D, re-elected) | D/D
    *1946 [Midterm] | Harry Truman (D) | R/R
    *1948 [Presidential/Congressional] | Truman (D, full term) | D/D
    1950 [Midterm] | Roosevelt (D) | D/D
    *1952 [Presidential/Congressional] | Dwight Eisenhower (R, pickup) | R/R
    *1954 [Midterm] | Eisenhower (R) | D/D
    1956 [Presidential/Congressional] | Eisenhower (R, re-elected) | D/D
    1958 [Midterm] | Eisenhower (R) | D/D
    1960 [Presidential/Congressional] | John Kennedy (D, pickup) | D/D
    1962 [Midterm] | Kennedy (D) | D/D
    1964 [Presidential/Congressional] | Lyndon Johnson (D, full term) | D/D
    1966 [Midterm] | Johnson (D) | D/D
    1968 [Presidential/Congressional] | Richard Nixon (R, pickup) | D/D
    1970 [Midterm] | Nixon (R) | D/D
    1972 [Presidential/Congressional] | Nixon (R, re-elected) | D/D
    1976 [Presidential/Congressional] | Jimmy Carter (D, pickup; unseated non-elected Gerald Ford, R) | D/D
    1978 [Midterm] | Carter (D) | D/D
    *1980 [Presidential/Congressional] | Ronald Reagan (R, pickup; unseated Carter) | R/D
    1982 [Midterm] | Reagan (R) | R/D
    1984 [Presidential/Congressional] | Reagan (R, re-elected) | R/D
    *1986 [Midterm] | Reagan (R) | D/D
    1988 [Presidential/Congressional] | George Bush (R) | D/D
    1990 [Midterm] | George Bush (R) | D/D
    1992 [Presidential/Congressional] | Bill Clinton (D, pickup; unseated Bush) | D/D
    *1994 [Midterm] | Clinton (D) | R/R
    1996 [Presidential/Congressional] | Clinton (D, re-elected) | R/R
    1998 [Midterm] | Clinton | R/R
    2000 [Presidential/Congressional] | George W. Bush (R, pickup) | R/R
    … 2001 [N.A.] | Bush (R) | D/R …
    2002 [Midterm] | Bush (R) | R/R
    2004 [Presidential/Congressional] | Bush (R, re-elected) | R/R
    2006 [Midterm] | Bush (R) | D/D
    2008 [Presidential/Congressional] | Barack Obama (D, pickup) | D/D
    *2010 [Midterm] | Obama (D) | D/R

    There has never been a year in which the party of the winning presidential candidate—coming into that election already with majority control of at least one of the two houses of Congress—saw their party lose the Senate or the House.

    Close call in breaking the pattern was 2000. That was a White House pickup for the Republicans; but they nearly lost the Senate as their original 54 seats were reduced to 50–50 (which would leave the vice-presidential winner, Republican pickup Dick Cheney, the tie-breaking vote).

    Look at the elections in which party control flips occurred in presidential election years. When the Senate or House switched, they flipped to the same party of the winning presidential candidate who, of course, was a pickup. This was the case with 1932 Franklin Roosevelt (D; Senate), 1952 Dwight Eisenhower (R; Senate and House), and 1980 Ronald Reagan (R; Senate).

    With respect to historical voting patterns, my take on 2012 is this: The Republican Party will only win the Senate if they have the have first unseated President Obama with winning back the White House. If they don’t succeed in doing that, majority control will remain with the incumbent Democratic Party.

    • 2001 was a flip of the Senate from Republican to Democratic because Vermont’s Jim Jeffords departed the GOP to become an independent. He chose to caucus with the Democrats. And this made Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) majority leader until after the 2002 midterm saw the Republican win back majority control.

    • When examining that list, please note that there was only one president—elected to at least two terms—who never lost same-party majority control of either house of Congress. That, of course, is 32nd president of the United States Franklin Roosevelt (D-New York).
    • Also when examining that list, please note that there was only one president—elected to at least two terms—who never had same-party majority control of either house of Congress. That, of course, is 37th president of the United States Richard Nixon (R-New York/-California).

    PREVIEWING 2012:
    • Look for Virginia as, perhaps, the top bellwether state. The 2008 presidential election saw it as No. 1 in coming closest to mirroring President Obama’s pickup and carriage of the state (at 6.30%), by comparison to his popular-vote margin (7.26%). That was a spread of just 0.96%. It is highly likely the Commonwealth will once again vote for the winner of the 2012 presidential contest. So, look for the winner of the U.S. Senate race in Virginia to emerge from the same party as the prevailing presidential candidate.
    • If it does turn out that President Obama wins re-election, don’t be surprised if he campaigns in Missouri and Montana for the purpose of reaching two goals: 1) to win over the states for pickups (in 2008 Mo. held for John McCain, R, at just 0.13%; Mont. was in McCain’s column by just 2.38%); 2) to aid 2006 Senate Democratic pickups Claire McCaskill, from Mo., and Jon Tester, of Mont., for re-elections.

  2. D December 31, 2011 10:36 am


    Hopefully, there were no screw-ups with formatting.

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