2012 Senate Elections Preview: Republicans Leading In Seven Key Races


While the national media’s spotlight has been focused on the 2012 race for the White House, there are also 33 Senate seats up for election in November, 23 of which are held by incumbent Democrats. Polling has begun for the critical seats Republicans are after and it’s not looking too good for many Democrats.

It’s not even close in North Dakota, where 15-year-incumbent Democrat Kent Conrad is retiring. Freshman Rep. Rick Berg is expected to win the Republican nomination and easily beat former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp for the seat.

In Nebraska, where two term incumbent Democrat Ben Nelson is retiring, Attorney General Jon Bruning is widely expected to win the GOP nomination, while retired former Senator Bob Kerrey will contend for the Democratic nomination. But regardless of whom Kerrey is running against, polls show he’s trailing all three Republican primary challengers by double digits.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill also now finds herself trailing all four of her Republican challengers for her seat.

In Florida, Rep. Connie Mack IV is widely expected to win the Republican nomination and has now opened up a seven point lead over two term incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson for the Senate seat previously held by Mack’s father.

In Wisconsin, where 13-year-incumbent Democrat Sen. Herb Kohl is retiring, former governor and Secretary of Health & Human Services Tommy Thompson is leading his counterpart, former Rep. Mark Neumann, for the Republican nomination. But regardless of which one wins, both are leading projected Democrat nominee Rep. Tammy Baldwin, and Thompson by double digits.

In Montana, where Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg will be challenging incumbent Democrat Jon Tester for his Senate seat, Rehberg is opening up with a modest three point lead.

But even in Massachusetts, where Scott Brown won the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy for almost 47 years and where Democrats are aggressively campaigning to get back behind challenger Elizabeth Warren, the last two months of polling show Brown leading Warren by anywhere from 5 to 9 points. If former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wins the Republican presidential nomination, it’ll be interesting to see if having his name at the top of the ticket greatly helps (or hurts) Brown’s chances of hanging on to the seat.

There are a couple states showing a dead heat between the two parties’ contenders. In Virginia, where Republican George Allen is seeking to regain his old Senate seat against former Governor and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine, the spread shows all polls tied up for the the seat incumbent Democrat Jim Webb is stepping down from. And in New Mexico, where incumbent Democrat Jeff Bingaman is also retiring, Republican Rep. Heather Wilson is in a statistical tie with either Democrat challengers Rep. Martin Heinrich or State Auditor Hector Balderas.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for Democrats. In the critical swing state of Ohio, polls show incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown opening up with a comfortable lead over his challenger, Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel. And with Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe recently announcing her retirement after 33 years in public office, Democrats are seeking to obtain her Senate seat as well.

But with less than 8 months left before Election Day, there are still many things left to be sorted out. Many of these contests will depend on nominating the right candidates in the right states. If there’s anything the 2010 elections taught me, it’s that Republicans can nominate far right candidates in as many solid red states as they want and comfortably win. But even in purple states where I thought hardcore conservatives like Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, John Raese, and Ken Buck had decent chances to win, I was proven wrong. And nominating far right candidates like Christine O’Donnell in blue states is just plain stupid. The GOP will need to focus on nominating center right candidates like Scott Brown, Mark Kirk, and Lisa Murkowski to win in blue/purple states.

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