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January 8th, 2010 2:30 am
State of the Senate 2010
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With this week’s announcements that Democratic senators Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota won’t be seeking reelection in the fall, all eyes have turned to the U.S. Senate. With Republicans needing to gain only one seat on net to eradicate the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority, the stakes are high. And with an anti-incumbent mood running hot nationally, we should expect to see some shakeups.

A few predictions:

First, it’s all but certain that Democrats will lose the filibuster-proof majority. In the current political atmosphere, 60 senators is pretty close to an absolute ceiling for either party and the Democrats are not performing anywhere near well enough to sustain it.

Second, the Republicans will not pick up the 11 net seats needed to regain control of the Senate. There are 19 Democratic seats up in 2010, but by my count 7 are entirely out of play (Connecticut now that Chris Dodd is retiring, Evan Bayh in Indiana, Barbara Mikulski in Maryland, Chuck Schumer in New York, Ron Wyden in Oregon, Patrick Leahy in Vermont, and Patty Murray in Washington). Despite a late surge from the Republican candidate, it also seems likely that Democrat Martha Coakley will win the special election in Massachusetts to succeed Ted Kennedy.

That leaves 11 possible pick-ups, but some of them are extremely remote prospects and the likelihood of all them coinciding is extremely low. The GOP’s strongest chances to swell its ranks are in North Dakota (where Governor John Hoeven is likely to become the next senator); Arkansas (where Blanche Lincoln’s dismal poll numbers show her being beat by any of four Republican challengers); Colorado (where appointed Senator Michael Bennet has proved to be a disappointment); and Nevada (where Harry Reid — elected as a moderate — seems likely to face a political death sentence for casting his lot with the likes of the DailyKos and MoveOn.org).

Republicans have fighting chances in several other races (Delaware, Illinois, and Pennsylvania) and a few other contests present outside pickup possibilities because of weakening incumbents or the possibility of viable challengers throwing their hats in the ring (California, Hawaii, New York, and Wisconsin).

However, the electoral math also has to factor in Republican losses. I don’t think there will be many. Some weak GOP incumbents in the south (David Vitter in Louisiana, Johnny Isakson in Georgia, Richard Burr in North Carolina) may have been in real danger under other circumstances, but the popular rage against Washington liberalism will probably insulate them this time around. Some of the seats the GOP is defending will be close, but the only one that currently looks to be on a trajectory for loss is Missouri, where Kit Bond is retiring and former House Minority Whip Roy Blunt — dogged by allegations of corruption — will likely be facing off against Robin Carnahan, the new face of a popular Democratic family in the Show-Me State. The upshot: look for Republican gains, but not enough to retake control of the chamber.

Finally, with Harry Reid’s loss looking more certain by the day (which would make him the second consecutive Democratic leader in the Senate to lose a popular election before losing his leadership position), 2011 should bring some interesting jockeying to head the Democratic Party in the Senate. Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois is nominally next in line for the position, but Durbin is gaffe-prone and perhaps identified too closely with President Obama’s Chicago machine. Expect a strong challenge from New York’s Chuck Schumer — and a more strategically sophisticated Democratic Party if he wins.

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