With much of the chattering class preoccupied with the presidential race, it's easy to lose sight of another crucial 2012 battle: The task of dislodging Harry Reid from his Majority Leader perch by winning back the Senate. Regardless of whether President Obama is defeated in November, it is imperative that Republicans reclaim the upper chamber ahead of 2013 -- so important, in fact, that George Will is urging fellow disgruntled conservatives to focus their efforts on the goal:
Republicans can concentrate on what should be the essential conservative project of restoring something like constitutional equipoise between the legislative and executive branches...Three years ago, conservatives were particularly focused on stopping two of Obama’s principal goals — a cap-and-trade climate policy and “card check” to abolish secret ballots in unionization elections. He still speaks incessantly but no longer speaks about either. And were it not for grossly corrupt conduct by Justice Department prosecutors in the trial of Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, which cost him re-election, Obamacare would not have passed. Beginning next January, 51 or more Republican senators, served by the canny Mitch McConnell’s legislative talents, could put sand in the gears of an overbearing and overreaching executive branch. This could restore something resembling the rule of law, as distinct from government by fiats issuing from unaccountable administrative agencies exercising excessive discretion.
What are the chances that Republicans can pull this off? As I wrote last year, the political landscape couldn't be much more hostile for Democrats. Of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs in 2012, two-thirds are currently controlled by Reid, Inc. Of the ten open seats (no incumbent), the DSCC is defending seven. Republicans must net four total seats to secure a majority, which continues to look like an entirely feasible task. Here's a quick rundown of recent Senate 2012 developments, starting with some bad news:
Maine -- Sen. Olympia Snowe's sudden retirement announcement adds an unexpected blue state open state to the mix. It appears as though state and national Democrats are preparing to back the bid of Maine's former Governor Angus King, a popular independent:
Republicans accused Democratic leaders of quietly recruiting former Maine Gov. Angus King into the race to succeed Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe to ensure the Independent former governor would caucus with Democrats. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "I’ve never spoken with anybody named Angus.” Similarly, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash), chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, also denied that she had any role in the matter. “I have not talked to him.” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the No. 3 Democrat, declined to comment on whether he’d spoken with King. King, a former two-term governor with significant support in the state, has not said which party he would caucus with if he were to win.
If King strikes a tacit agreement to caucus with Democrats, the party may not field or substantially support a Democratic nominee in the election. Retaining this seat was already going to be a tall order for Republicans, but this rumored deal could make it even tougher. Now onto the better news:
Massachusetts - As Dan has been pointing out over the last few weeks, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown continues to surprise national prognosticators by posting sizeable leads over Leftist Elizabeth Warren. Warren and Democrats are raising huge money for the race, yet Brown has been largely unaffected thus far. Here's the third poll in the last month showing him somewhat comfortably ahead:
In the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts, Republican Sen. Scott Brown is leading chief Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren by a margin of eight percentage points (49-41) according to the first poll conducted by Western New England University's Polling Institute for The Republican, MassLive.com and El Pueblo Latino this election season.
Contra the Left's preferred storyline, Brown's campaign is citing his principled leadership on the contraception/conscience clause issue as a contributor to his strong standing in the polls.
Nebraska - National Democrats were pretty pleased with their recruitment of former Sen. Bob Kerrey -- currently a New York City resident and the president of a liberal college -- to run for Democrat Ben Nelson's soon-to-be vacated seat. The trouble? Nebraskans aren't quite so enthused:
Democrats hoped to give themselves a shot at holding onto a U.S. Senate seat in Nebraska by talking retired Senator Bob Kerrey into running, but the first Rasmussen Reports survey of the race finds Kerrey trailing all three of his leading Republican opponents. A new telephone survey of Likely Nebraska Voters finds state Attorney General Jon Bruning earning 55% support to Kerrey's 33%. Four percent (4%) like another candidate in the race, and seven percent (7%) remain undecided.
This seat is still on track to be a safe Republican pick-up.
Wisconsin - In addition to the growing opposition to the Left's petty recall effort against Gov. Scott Walker, Democrats' hand-picked Senate candidate -- Madison liberal Tammy Baldwin -- trails all three of her possible Republican opponents, two by double digits.
Florida - A new poll shows that incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is very beatable in the fall. He's attracting a paltry 41 percent of the vote, tied with at least one possible GOP contender.