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Who will control the Senate?

TOM BURGUM
Contributing Columnist
burgum@lbknews.com

Trick question: no one will really control the Senate come January 2013 as neither party has a realistic chance to reach the 60 seats required to break filibusters. Still, it is important for a party to have even a 51 to 49 majority as it allows that party to control the committees, set the floor debate and determine what bills are considered by the Senate.

Currently, there are more than eight House bills that Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid has not sent to committees for consideration. The Republicans in the House have labeled them “job creation” bills and would love to showcase their abiding interest in job creation. They never will get the chance as long as Mr. Reid and the Democrats control the Senate.

This year there are 33 Senate races leaving 67 sitting Senators not up for reelection. Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, believes the race for control of the Senate is “agonizingly tight.” There are 13 states that are considered “likely” or “safe” Democratic seats: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. There are three states that only “lean” Democratic: Hawaii, Maine and Ohio. If all three fall in the Democratic column it would be a pickup of one for the Democrats as Maine is currently served by Republican Olympia Snowe, who is retiring.

On the Republican side there are seven Senate seats regarded as “safe” or “likely” Republican: Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. Only two seats are thought to lean Republican: Arizona and North Dakota. Retiring Democrat Kent Conrad currently holds the North Dakota seat, so this would be a pickup of one for the Republicans.

If Sabato’s analysis proves correct, the “safe” and “likely” seats will break down to wins for 16 Democrats and nine Republicans. The split of seats not up for election this year is 30 Democrats and 37 Republicans. At this point the parties are even at 46 seats each. Thus, Sabato’s eight “too close too call” seats will determine which party enjoys partisan advantage in the Senate in 2013.

The toss-up states with current status: Florida-Democratic; Massachusetts-Republican; Missouri-Democratic; Montana-Democratic; New Mexico-Democratic; Nevada-Republican; Virginia-Democratic; Wisconsin-Democratic.

 

‘Too Close to Call States’

Florida: Republican Rep. Connie Mack and incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson are neck and neck. Rasmussen has Mack leading Nelson 43-36, but it is expected to narrow. Should LeMieux become the nominee, Nelson leads 41-38. LeMieux is hammering Mack for several indiscretions including a bar fight some years ago. Despite this, Mack leads comfortably at the moment. Nelson’s popularity with fellow Democrats remains low, but he certainly will get their votes in November. Who will win? No one knows.

Massachusetts: Republican Scott Brown is threatening to do the unthinkable, that is: holding on to the Senate seat in liberal Massachusetts. Democrat Elizabeth Warren is the formidable competition, but she currently trails Brown 49-44 in a recent Rasmussen Poll. A Western NE University poll had Brown leading 49-41. Few believe Brown can hold on to that large of a lead, and this one remains a toss-up.

Missouri: Rasmussen has Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill as vulnerable this year. She is trailing both likely Republican challengers. McCaskill has amazing survivor skills and wagering against her at this point is not recommended.

Montana: Democratic Sen. John Tester is threatened by Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg who currently leads Tester 47-44 in the latest Rasmussen Poll. Hard to figure Montana’s political bent except to acknowledge it is more conservative than the Obama administration.

New Mexico: Republican Rep. Heather Wilson is putting this state in the toss-up column. On the Democratic side, Rep. Martin Heinrich is favored over State Auditor Hector Balderas, but Balderas is Hispanic and Hispanics have a plurality in New Mexico.

Nevada: Republican Sen. Dean Heller will try to hold his seat against Rep. Shelley Berkley. So far it looks like he might hold on as he leads in early polls, 47-40. But, Nevada has a heavy Hispanic vote than tends Democratic, so it’s too close to call.

Virginia: Republican ex-Sen. George Allen has two opponents for the nomination but is a certainly in the race. His opponent is former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine. Kaine was a popular governor but lost some luster while serving as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the health care reform debate, which is remarkably unpopular in Virginia. Sabato believes the state will go with the same party that wins the presidential contest in Virginia. If Sabato is right, Allen cannot be pleased that Obama leads both Republican contenders by three or four points in the latest Rasmussen Polls.

Wisconsin: This one is particularly difficult. If ex-Gov. Tommy Thompson gets the GOP nod he is favored over Representative Tammy Baldwin. If, however, one of three other contenders should win the nomination, Baldwin is favored. Hard to handicap this one. One would think Republicans would rally around Thompson who was popular as governor, but the Republican ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is remarkable, so one can only wait to see who wins the primary. Republican chances will look better if Republican Gov. Scott Walker wins the recall election. If he doesn’t, Democrats will likely be favored.

When everything is said and done, the Republicans must win four of the Democratic seats and hold both currently on the Republican side. If they lose either Massachusetts or Nevada, they will have to win five of the six Democratic seats. That is a tall order.

So, who will control the Senate in 2013? Who knows, I don’t.

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