With Democratic Retirements, GOP 2010 Senate Prospects Brighten

Reid is in very big trouble, with poll numbers even worse than Dodd’s before Dodd announced his retirement.

Finally, there is Colorado, where appointed Senator Michael Bennet has fared poorly in polls matching him against several GOP challengers. The retirement of Democratic Governor Bill Ritter will also hurt Bennet’s chances.

In summary, the GOP seems near certain to win North Dakota and has a 50-50 shot in Arkansas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. The GOP is a slight favorite to win the Delaware, Nevada, and Colorado Senate races. Connecticut is likely off the radar as a pickup opportunity.

A few longshot opportunities for the GOP are New York, California and Wisconsin. In New York, Long Island Congressman Peter King may enter the race against Senator Kirsten Gillibrand after deciding last summer to pass on the contest. Gillibrand may also have to fend off a party primary against former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. In California, Barbara Boxer has held about a ten point lead in surveys so far against former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Senator Russ Feingold seems in good shape in Wisconsin, unless former Governor Tommy Thompson decides to challenge him.

Overall, the chances of the GOP winning back control of the Senate in 2010 (picking up 11 seats) appear to be negligible. But gains are pretty certain. A few GOP-held seats are also vulnerable due to retirements. In Missouri, Democrat Robin Carnahan is a slight favorite to win the seat of Kit Bond against GOP Congressman Roy Blunt. Missouri was the only one of ten Bush states targeted by the Obama campaign that McCain won.

Two GOP contenders -- Trey Grayson and Dr. Rand Paul -- are currently running ahead of potential Democratic challengers Jack Conway and Daniel Mongiardo for Jim Bunning’s open seat in Kentucky.  In New Hampshire, Republican Kelly Ayotte is running ahead of Congressman Paul Hodes, the likely Democratic nominee for Judd Gregg’s seat.

Both Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio are well ahead of likely Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek in Florida, and former GOP Congressman Rob Portman is ahead of Jennifer Brunner in Ohio to retain George Voinovich’s seat. Democrats have so far not found good challengers against Richard Burr in North Carolina or David Vitter in Louisiana. If the GOP can win Missouri and hold the other open seats, it could net four tosix seats in 2010.

The real opportunity for the GOP to take back the Senate will be in 2012, assuming they make solid gains in 2010. President Obama’s coattails may be a good bit shorter in 2012 than they were in 2008, when the Democrats picked up eight Senate seats. Democrats will have to defend 24 seats in 2012, the GOP only nine.

Many of the Democrats running that year are vulnerable: Sherrod Brown in Ohio, John Tester in Montana, Jim Webb in Virginia (George Allen may show up for a rematch), Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Ben Nelson in Nebraska, among them. Joe Lieberman could run as a Republican rather than an independent in 2012.

Other Democrats who might be vulnerable include Kent Conrad in North Dakota, Herb Kohl  in Wisconsin, Robert Menendez in New Jersey, Bill Nelson in Florida, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, and Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota, though all start out in good shape.  Among GOP incumbents in 2012, only John Ensign in Nevada seems in jeopardy.

After picking up 15 Senate seats in two cycles, including the Specter switch, the Democrats could be facing two bad cycles in 2010 and 2012. President Obama has the highest disapproval rating for a president entering his second year since Eisenhower. Rasmussen’s generic ballot test shows Republicans ahead of Democrats by 9%, after trailing by 6% a year ago.

It is amazing what a difference a year makes.