Balance of Power: The 2012 Senate Toss-Ups

Posted: Mar 22, 2012 1:46 PM

As the politically sentient are well aware, the 2012 election isn't just about the fight for the White House -- there's also the possibility of shifting the balance of power in Congress's upper chamber. The presidential race understandably occupies a great deal of our national attention span, but there should be quite a few interesting races for the Senate. The Democrats currently hold a small majority with 53 seats, but even with one-third of the Senate seats up for contest, it isn't looking likely that either party will be able to garner enough support to take a supermajority of 60 in the upcoming 113th Congress.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics (full disclosure: I might be a little biased, UVa is my alma mater -- Wahoowa!), revealed some fascinating insights today in hispolitical crystal ball. He predicts that there are eight races that will decide the fate of the Senate come November and includes a thorough analysis; I definitely recommend the full read if you're looking for a breakdown (you know... if you're into that kind of thing):

Let’s assume that, at the dawn of the 113th Congress in 2013, all 67 sitting senators not up for reelection this year — 30 Democrats, 37 Republicans — return to serve next year (no departures for the Cabinet, the Court or the Great Beyond). Next, let’s also assume that the 16 races we currently favor Democrats to win go to the Blue column, and the nine races where Republicans are favored go to the Red column. (See our full chart below.) Note that we have long flipped Nebraska and North Dakota from Democratic control to Republican control; former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey’s return to Nebraska hasn’t moved us a bit. Note also, as we said above, we are assuming that Maine elects King, who in effect becomes an Independent Democrat akin to Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman or Vermont’s Bernie Sanders. Further, our analysis has Democrats holding seats that are actually or potentially competitive, such as Ohio, Michigan and Hawaii. Finally, we presume that Democrats don’t score surprising upsets in places like Arizona and Indiana.

With those assumptions in place, the Senate is tied exactly 46 to 46, with eight toss up races to decide whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) continues to lead the chamber, or whether Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) takes over.

Obviously, if these races split four to four, the vice president will break the tie in a 50-50 Senate so long as our assumptions are correct. Thus, the race for partisan control of the Senate is agonizingly tight.

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