Democratic Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson’s retirement presents Democrats with a serious problem. Right now, they control the Senate, 53-47. They have a slim margin for error, and their hopes of keeping a toe-hold in the federal government's elected branches could ultimately depend on their ability to limit losses to two or less.The GOP will have challenges in Nevada and Massachusetts, but there's still hope for getting rid of Reid even if those states are lost.
But barring an unlikely entry to the Nebraska race by former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D – and perhaps even if he does enter – Democrats will probably lose two seats without much of a fight. In addition to the Nebraska retirement, Kent Conrad’s retirement in North Dakota has created a very favorable pickup opportunity for the GOP.
After counting those two seats, Republicans will enjoy a target-rich environment elsewhere. First, there is Montana, where freshman Sen. Jon Tester, D, faces the most popular Republican in the state, Rep. Dennis Rehberg. Polling shows that Rehberg can definitely win, and might even be the favorite already. At the top of the ballot, President Obama is unlikely to do as well in Montana as he did in 2008 (47 percent), and that could also affect the race.
Then there’s Florida, which no one really expected to be competitive. The sudden entry by Rep. Connie Mack IV, R – son of former Sen. Connie Mack III – has made this one unexpectedly competitive. An early Rasmussen poll already gives Mack the lead. Other polls give Nelson the lead, but with low enough numbers that he is quite vulnerable.
After that, several other Democratic seats will be in serious jeopardy. The top tier consists of the open seats in Wisconsin and Virginia (Republicans are guaranteed to nominate a top-shelf challenger in both), then Missouri, where the GOP field appears weak, but the incumbent is also weak. The next tier consists of Michigan (which could get very hot later this year), New Mexico and Ohio.
And 2014 looks even better:
And if you think that’s bad, have a look at the map for 2014. Democrats will need several miracles to avoid more bloodletting (although, importantly, miracles do happen). Republicans lost so many seats in 2008 that they have, by my reckoning, only two theoretically weak ones left in the 2014 class (Maine and Kentucky). They will be gunning at more than ten theoretical Democratic targets, even assuming no Democrats retire.Never count political chickens before they hatch, but unless the GOP has a major meltdown (which is always possible), we should be rid of both Obama and Reid by next January.
There is no point in counting one's chickens early in politics. But it is worth noting that a filibuster-proof GOP Senate majority by 2015, while perhaps a stretch, is far from unattainable. That is doubly true if Barack Obama squeaks by to re-election in the new year.