Armed With Good Poll Numbers, Senate Dems Say They Can Compete Broadly

Freshman Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio was one of the Democrats who got some good polling news.

Although Democrats face a daunting task to hold the Senate next year, they’ve sketched out a plan to compete in more than two dozen states in the 2012.

Further, Senate Democrats on Tuesday released polls in several states, including Utah, which show them to be competitive heading into next year’s elections.

Senate Democrats next year must defend 23 seats year, more than twice as many as Republicans. A net loss of just four seats would hand control back to the GOP.

Despite what appears to be an uphill climb, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) included polling results from four states in a fundraising email. The DSCC is the group tasked with electing Democrats to the Senate.

Those polls show Democrats ahead in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and, perhaps most remarkably, tied in Utah.

Freshman incumbents, Sens. Bob Casey and Sherrod Brown, will be seeking second terms in Pennsylvania and Ohio, respectively. According to DSCC polling, Casey would win 47 percent to 32 percent. Brown, a leading progressive who was thought to be potentially vulnerable in a swing state like Ohio, leads 51 percent to 33 percent.

In Nevada, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley will be taking on GOP Sen. Dean Heller, who was appointed to his seat just weeks ago following the resignation of scandal-tarred Republican Sen. John Ensign. Ensign stepped aside due to ethics issues that stem from payoffs designed to hide an extramarital affair the senator had been carrying on with an aide.

Most notably, DSCC polling has the 2012 Utah race tied at 47 percent. A deeply conservative state, six-term incumbent Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is seeking re-election. Hatch could well face a challenge for the nomination from the right, however. That’s what happened in Utah in 2010, when incumbent Republican Sen. Robert Bennett fell to tea party favorite Mike Lee. Lee went on to win the general election, and is now the state’s junior senator.

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz is most often talked about as a potential Republican challenger to Hatch for the GOP senatorial nomination. Rep. Jim Matheson, the lone Democrat in Utah’s congressional delegation could decide to try for Senate next year.

“GOP efforts to sabotage the economy for political gain are not paying off -– yet. But Republicans are reading the same polls and writing big checks. Karl Rove’s group just made a $20 million ad buy in crucial swing states (including Nevada),” says Jason Rosenbaum, DSCC director of online communications, referring to the former Bush White House aide’s deep-pocketed conservative American Crossroads groups, which spent tens of millions to defeat Democrats in 2010. “We have no margin for error in 2012. If they flip just 4 Democratic seats, we lose the Senate.”

Besides the polling, the DSCC sent out an earlier email which outlined potential Democratic 2012 battle plans.

As the DSCC is working feverishly this week to meet an end-of-month fundraising goal, it’s not surprising that the organization broke those plans down under the headings, “Fully funded plan” and “Limited resources plan.”

As of Tuesday morning, the DSCC was still trying to bring in $201,000 in online contributions.  The DSCC says supporters can kick in as little as $5 toward meeting that goal.

The fully funded plan would target a wide swath of some 27 states, including races in traditionally red states like Indiana, Tennessee and Texas. The limited plan would reach just a dozen or so states, mostly those with potentially vulnerable incumbents, such as Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Clare McCaskill of Missouri.

“The map on the right means Republican candidates go unchallenged,” DSCC executive director Guy Cecil says, referring to the limited plan. “It means we hand the GOP victories, and it means we give them the majority. But if we reach our budget projections, we get the map on the left [the fully funded plan].”

Interestingly, however, even under the limited plan, the DSCC would still seek to defeat Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and support Berkeley’s challenge in Nevada.


Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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