Democrats hope political infighting among Republicans help them hold their shrunken Senate majority in what could be a difficult election in 2012, according to the top staffer on the committee in charge of electing Democrats to the Senate.
“Keeping the Senate blue won’t be easy – we have 23 seats to defend in 2012,” says Guy Cecil, who recently became the new executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).
Republicans need win four seats four seats next year to take control of the Senate — or just three if a Republican defeats President Obama and a GOP vice president replaces Joe Biden as president of the Senate.
Many of the seats Democrats must defend in 2012 include senators elected in 2006, an extraordinary “wave” election in which voters were motivated by deep disapproval of then-President George W. Bush.
Since then, the electoral picture has become more difficult for Democrats. They lost more than 60 seats in the 2010 midterm elections, turning control of the House of Representatives back to GOP hands. Senate Democrats also lost a number of seats last year, including defeats of incumbents in Arkansas and Wisconsin.
However, the DSCC is hoping that an ongoing “civil war” within the Republican Party helps give Democrats a boost in 2012, Cecil says in a fundraising email sent out Thursday, titled “Republican turmoil.”
“One of the biggest factors to watch this election cycle will be GOP primary fights,” Cecil says. “In the 2010 elections, Republicans lost some seats pundits expected them to win – including Nevada and Delaware – in part because candidates backed by the Tea Party won primaries over establishment candidates (and Democrats ran tough, smart campaigns.) The same thing could happen in 2012.”
In his email, Cecil outlines several races where tea party unhappiness with Republican incumbents could translate to Democratic victories.
Indiana: One of the Tea Party’s top targets for replacement is Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who’s represented the Hoosier State in the Senate for 34 years. “An assortment of Tea Party groups signed a letter last week demanding that Lugar retire,” Cecil says. “If that tactic fails, the groups plan to unite behind a primary challenger. Lugar’s not bowing to Tea Party demands. In fact, Lugar recently said the movement speaks in ‘large cliché titles, but they are not able to articulate all the specifics.'”
Indiana is tough territory for Democrats, however, as last year former GOP senator Dan Coats beat a conservative Democrat to reclaim his old job.
Massachusetts: Cecil notes that in Massachusetts, Republican Sen. Scott Brown became the “original Tea Party senator,” riding “a wave of right-wing unhappiness to the Senate” in an upset victory last year to fill the unexpired term left by the death of longtime Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. Since his election, however, Brown has supported some Democratic legislation, including Wall Street reform. Tea Party darling Sarah Palin publicly upbraided Brown for his “antics” for such positions.
“The National Republican Trust PAC – which spent nearly $100,000 on ads supporting Brown [in 2010] – is now working to defeat him – and just might demand its money back,” Cecil says.
Brown, however, has amassed more than $7 million in campaign fundraising, however.
Missouri: Former GOP Sen. Jim Talent has bowed out of the Republican race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, “setting the stage for a GOP free-for-all,” Cecil says.
“Two Republicans – former state treasurer Sarah Steelman and former congressional candidate Ed Martin – have already jumped into the race and are vying for Tea Party support. Neither is the type of fresh face Tea Partiers seem to prefer,” he adds. “Steelman is a perennial politician who has run or considered running for five separate offices, while Ed Martin failed to win a House seat in 2010 after working as the chief of staff for a failed former governor turned lobbyist.”
Missouri could be tough for Democrats, however, given that conservative Republican Roy Blunt captured last year captured the Show Me State’s other Senate seat.
Virginia: Cecil notes “a nasty primary is brewing” between former Sen. George Allen, who lost his Senate seat in 2006 thanks to his racially offensive “macaca moment” and and Jamie Radtke, co-founder of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation.
“Allen is sure to feel the full brunt of Tea Party anger, given his years of working for corporate interests in Washington and his eager embrace of President Bush’s budgets, which exploded the national debt,” Cecil says. “Most recently, Allen signed a pledge that protects tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas.”
However, freshman Democratic Sen. Jim Webb hasn’t indicated whether he intends to run for re-election, and has reported anemic fundraising.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.