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Can the GOP Take Back the Senate?

February 5, 2010

Ever since the Scott Brown election shook the political landscape from coast to coast, there have been whisperings on both sides of the aisle about the Republican Party’s chances of taking back one or both Houses of Congress. Currently, the GOP stands at 41 seats in the Senate and 178 in the House, meaning they need to gain 10 and 40 seats, respectively, for a majority.

Now, all 435 members of the House will stand for re-election this fall, so the GOP will clearly have a chance to take back that chamber if they can find at least 218 winning candidates between now and November. Whether this will happen is another debate, but the important part is that this can happen any given cycle, be it 2010, 2012, or further down the road.

The Senate, however, presents a less clear picture, as only 36 of 100 seats will be up for grabs this year. Making matters more complicated, only 18 of these 36 are held by Democrats, meaning that Republicans will have to take over more than half the available blue seats in this cycle if they wish to reclaim The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. But before we make any judgements, let’s take a look at the pick-up opportunities the GOP will have in November.

1.) North Dakota–Longtime incumbent Byron Dorgan is retiring, and popular Republican Gov. John Hoeven is running to replace him. Even if the roof falls in between now and election day, Republicans can at least bank on picking up North Dakota.

2.) Delaware–This is Joe Biden’s old seat, and was supposed to be his son Beau’s by this time next year. However, the GOP was able to recruit Rep. Mike Castle, whose name is regarded as highly as the Bidens’ in Delaware, into the race, and Beau decided to sit this one out and wait for a better cycle. Barring a Coakley-esque disaster, Castle should cruise into the Senate.

3.) Arkansas–Blanche Lincoln, one of the last surviving old-school Southern Dems, has dug herself into a deep hole by voting for the stimulus and heath care bills. Polling suggests that Arkansas has seen enough of Lincoln, and that any Republican would defeat her in a landslide. The strongest candidate appears to be Rep. John Boozman.

4.) Nevada–If there is one Democrat the GOP would love to send packing, it’s Harry Reid. Like Lincoln, his local base has fallen out from underneath him and he finds himself in the fight of his political life. Though Nevada Republian Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden leads Reid in the polls, she is far from the strongest statewide candidate, giving the Majority Leader a slight ray of hope. The NRC, meanwhile, is trying to recruit Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who is considered stronger than Lowden.

5.)Colorado–The Rocky Mountain State turned blue in a hurry over the past 5 years, and it appears to be turning red again just as quickly. Rookie Senator Michael Bennetis struggling to defend his vote for the healthcare bill at home, and former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton has opened up a 14-point lead over Bennet in the latest polls. Norton, however, must survive a crowded GOP primary.

6.)Pennsylvania–Revenge is a dish best served cold, and Republicans are looking to put “Benedict” Arlen Specter on ice this fall. In case you missed it, Specter left the GOP in April because he feared losing a primary to former Congressman Pat Toomey, a staunch conservative. Unfortunately for the turncoat Democrat, the move didn’t go over well at home, and he currently trails in the polls to… guessed it, Pat Toomey. Specter’s party switch may ultimately benefit the GOP, as Toomey would be a more reliable conservative than Benedict Arlen ever was.

7.)Illinois–The guilty pleasures keep coming. In the race for President Obama’s old seat, Republican Rep. Mark Kirk slightly leads Democrat Alexi Giannoulis, a close ally of the Commander in Chief. This race is the purest toss-up on the board, as Kirk will look to exploit the Democrat’s ties to failed banks, the mob, and the Chicago machine and Giannoulis will try to paint Kirk as too conservative for this very blue state.

8.)California–Barbara Boxer probably ranks third among Democrats Republicans would love to send to an early retirement after Reid and Specter, but the outspoken liberal will be the hardest of the three to dislodge. California is a tough place for the GOP to win, but the state his been hit hard by the recession and Boxer’s approval ratings are below 50%. Former Rep. Tom Campbell polls the best against Boxer, trailing her by only a few points, but he must survive what looks to be a brutal primary against former HP CEO Carly Fiorina.

9.)Indiana–Evan Bayh has two things going for him–his famous last name (akin to Kennedy in Massachusetts) and over $10 million in campaign funds. However, he also faces scrutiny at home about his healthcare vote and the toughest race of his political career. Former Senator Dan Coats appears poised to enter the race, and would give Republicans a legitimate chance of knocking off the once-invincible Bayh.

If Republicans win all nine of these races–a tall order, but far from impossible–they will be one seat away from a majority of 51. However, the choices for that 10th pickup and 51st seat are limited, as Democrats are strong favorites in all nine remaining races. Five of these Democrats–Chuck Schumer, Pat Leahy, Daniel Inouye, Barbara Mikulski, and Ron Wyden–are popular, well-entrenched, and virtually assured of winning re-election. A sixth race, for an open seat in Connecticut, also appears to be a lock for Democrats right now The other three Democrats up for election this year–Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Russ Feingold of Washington, and Patty Murray of Washington–are potentially vulnerable, and can be beaten by the right candidate. If Republicans can find the “Scott Brown” capable of winning just one of these three races, they can take control of the U.S. Senate.

So there’s your answer–unlikely, but if all the cards fall the right way, a possibility. And hey, if this does happen, we’ll only be nine votes away from being able to stop a Democratic filibuster.

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