Republican Senate Prospects in 2012
How do prospects look for Republicans in 2012 and beyond? So far, the tea leaves are encouraging.
It is probable that Republicans will continue to control the House of Representatives, as this Real Clear Politics analysis shows. That means the key to Republicans really changing Washington, if the White House is recaptured, lies in control of the Senate. Because of the need for cloture to enact real reforms, the larger the Republican Senate majority, the easier reforms will be; and because cloture is a procedural issue, it is much more likely to get RINOs to support the leadership on cloture than on substantive votes. What that means is that if Republicans have 57 Senate seats but only 52 conservative Republicans, the five RINOs can vote for cloture on conservative bills and then proudly vote against the bill on the floor.
Now 2014 is going to be a tough year for Democrats in conservative states. Eight senators from normally conservative states -- Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Warner of Virginia, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, and Tim Johnson of South Dakota - will be up for reelection, and persuading three of them to vote for cloture for the right sort of reforms will be very possible (senators like Landrieu, Rockefeller, Baucus, and Begich, for example, will be hard-pressed to oppose environmental reforms that allow energy extraction in their states).
The prospects of Republicans gaining the Senate seats that they need for real reform have brightened recently. North Dakota is a very red state, and although the Democrats have recruited a real candidate, in a normal year, that seat will flip with the retirement of the Democrat incumbent. Tester in Montana got less than half the vote in a strong Democrat year, and strong Republican candidates are jumping at the chance to make him a one-term senator. Nelson in Nebraska misread voter sentiment on ObamaCare, and the "Cornhusker Kickback" could easily end his political career. McCaskill in Missouri barely won in a Democrat wave, and now, in an increasingly conservative state, she is fighting for her life. When Herb Kohl decided to retire and Thompson entered the race in Wisconsin, that state also became a pickup in a modest Republican year. New Mexico also began a good prospect when Bingaman retired and popular Congresswoman Wilson jumped in. Virginia will be a marquee race, but in 2009, 2010, and 2011, Republicans made major gains, so it is easy to see former governor and senator Allen recapturing his seat. Those seven seats should flip in a year in which the Republican nominee carries the state in question (which would mean a Republican win with between 52% and 54% of the vote).
With that sort of Republican year, other Senate seats could be on the cusp: Manchin of West Virginia, if he faces a real candidate like Congresswoman Capito, could be defeated; Republicans in Michigan have a robust group who feel that Stabenow is vulnerable; Pennsylvania's Casey also is in only the "lean Democrat" category. Those three would give Republicans the 57 seats probably needed for cloture.
But recent Republican entries in a couple of Senate races have increased the probability of big gains. Linda Lingle, a popular governor running for an open Senate seat in Hawaii, has a real chance of winning. Connie Mack in Florida is running ahead of incumbent Senator Nelson.
Beyond those two, which might put Republican Senate strength at 59, Maria Cantwell in Washington is saddled with a very unpopular Democrat Party in state government. Democrats would normally be expected to hold Joe Lieberman's seat, but the abandonment of his party four year ago and a run by a very wealthy and well-known Linda McMahon could make things difficult for them. Could Tom Kean win a rematch in New Jersey against Senator Menendez? Sure -- he almost won in 2006, and polls show today that Kean could beat the Democrat. That means that in a Republican "wave" of 55% or more, Republicans could end up with as many as 62 Senate seats.
If that happens, then for the first time in its history, the Republican Party will have the muscle to push through its agenda without Democrat votes. What could that mean? How about a radical reform of environmental regulations to make extraction of energy easier and faster? How about a truly flat tax and abolition of the capital gains tax? Why not a reform of the Taft-Hartley Act to create a presumption of an "Open Shop" unless the state affirmatively rejects Right to Work? How about abolishing useless federal agencies like the Department of Education? Or how about requiring any college that receives federal funds to adopt David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights?
Winning the White House and holding the House are not enough. Republicans need, just for two years, to be able to actually change the federal government, to jump-start the engine of American prosperity and to melt the state-supported instruments of leftist totalitarianism. In 2012, that could happen.