2012 is one of the worst years for Democrats to retain control of the Senate because they have 23 seats up for reelection in 2012 while the Republicans have only 10 (before the Scott Brown (R) win in the special election in Massachusetts, the Democrats would have had 24 seats to defend in 2012.) The Democrats gained six of their Senate seats up for the 2012 election cycle in 2006 when conservatives stayed home because they had depressed enthusiasm due to the Bush Administration's failures with the Iraq War. This is 2012 though where the Republicans are more enthusiastic because of their opposition to Obama. The focus this year is more on the Presidential election too but Romney's winning the nomination is good for the downticket Republicans. The reason is that if Santorum won the nomination, social issues would go back to the spotlight and hurt the downticket Republicans because they would be associated with the very conservative views on abortion, contraception and equal rights for gays when the most important issues for the voters are the economy and jobs. Anyway though, the Democrats still have a chance to retain control of the Senate and could have an even stronger chance if the Republicans do not nominate conservatives. Now onto the rankings:
map of Senate seats
Blue =Likely Democratic
Light Blue = Lean Democratic
Light Red=Lean Republican
Dark Red/Brown=Safe Republican
Green = Safe Independent
White= no election
Safe Democratic (9 seats)
California (Dianne Feinstein): Republicans had a chance to nominate birther queen Orly Taitz (R) to run against Feinstein but they instead picked anti autism advocate Elizabeth Emken (R). Republicans could have picked worse but Feinstein is too popular, too well funded and California is too Democratic to elect a Republican.
Delaware (Tom Carper:) Only state where the Governor and the entire congressional delegation is Democratic. Carper is not losing any races anytime soon.
Maryland (Ben Cardin): This is Maryland.
Minnesota (Amy Klobuchar): Minnesota may not be as Democratic as it once was but Klobuchar is extremely popular.
New York (Kristen Gillibrand): This is New York and most polls show Gillibrand with a 20%+ lead.
Pennsylvania (Bob Casey): I debated putting this race in the Likely Democratic column but I decided to put it in the Safe Democratic one.
Rhode Island (Sheldon Whitehouse): Whitehouse may not be residing in the White House but he will be residing in the Senate next year.
Vermont (Bernie Sanders): Another strongly Democratic seat. (note: Sanders is a registered Independent but caucuses with the Democrats so I included this race in the Safe Democratic column.)
Washington (Maria Cantwell): Republicans have a chance to win the Governorship in Washington but all polls suggest they are not winning the Senate seat.
Likely Democratic (5 seats)
Connecticut (Open-Joe Liberman): Lieberman is retiring so there is a slightly competitive race to replace him. The Democrats face a competitive primary between Congressman Peter Murphy (D) and Secretary of State Susan Byschelwitz (D). Murphy seems to have the edge in the primary and he also polls better against the Republicans than Byschelwitz does. The Republicans are former Rep. Chris Shays (R) from southwest Connecticut (he is the more moderate candidate) and Linda McMahon (R), former WWE CEO who spent around $50 million in the 2010 Senate race (she lost by 11 points.) If McMahon wins the primary (which is likely because the Republican base in Connecticut has grown more conservative,) expect Democrats to have a stronger chance here.
Michigan (Debbie Stabenow (D)): At first, this race appeared to be competitive after Michigan's sharp turn right in 2010 when the Republicans gained the Governorship and the State House. The Republicans even nominated popular Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R). The race appeared competitive until Hoekstra ran an ad that many observers viewed as racist toward Chinese people http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-E2IhOc58k
Even many Republicans criticized the ad and due to the backlash from the ad, Stabenow has led in the last four polls from 9-16 points.
New Jersey (Robert Menendez (D)): Excluding the 2009 Gubernatorial race, Republicans have not won a statewide election in New Jersey since 1997 although they usually come close. Democratic incumbents in New Jersey are usually not very popular but seem to win in the end. Menendez is facing State Senator Joe Kyrillos (R) from Morris County. If it were 2010, Menendez would probably face a tough race but New Jersey's Democratic tilt should keep Menendez out of a tough race. The RCP average has Menendez ahead by 11 points.
Ohio (Sherrod Brown (D)): About six months again, Brown seemed to be clearly in the lead but Republicans Super PACs started bombarding Ohio with ads, cutting into Brown's lead. The Republican candidate is State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) who is young but may be too inexperienced for some voters and is extremely conservative. Brown is no moderate either and has a reputation for his liberal views but he is popular among the working class voters in eastern Ohio, a key swing group so he has a good chance to win. The RCP average has Brown ahead by 10, just enough for the race to be considered Likely Democratic.
West Virginia (Joe Manchin (D)): Former Governor Joe Manchin (D) faces a rematch with rich businessman John Raese (R). West Virginia is a traditionally Democratic state that started voting Republican for Federal offices 10 years ago. The state still votes Democratic statewide but like formerly Democratic states across the South, West Virginia may start voting Republican statewide too. Not this year though. Manchin is moderate, popular and connects with voters very well. Raese though is rich and is from Florida, not West Virginia. Manchin even won by 11 points in 2010, a horrible year for Democrats so his margin should improve in 2010. This race will stay at Likely Democratic though due to West Virginia's Republican trend but is close to Safe Democratic.
Lean Democratic (3 seats)
Florida (Bill Nelson (D)): Since he was elected in 2000, Nelson has maintained high approval ratings for his moderate views and likability. Republicans however have fielded Rep. Connie Mack IV (R), part of the Mack line who has owned baseball teams and represented Florida in the Senate. He originally declined to run but decided half a year later to run because he thought no other candidate could beat Nelson. Six months ago, the race was tied but Nelson seems to have regained the lead (the last PPP poll showed him up by 5,) after negative revelations about Mack's financial issues, including homestead taxes. Also, Mack is not personally popular (Nelson is,) which is hurting Mack. Nelson also raised $1.8 million last quarter, a strong haul but he may need a bit more for the 4th most populous state. Mack has been fundraising poorly but the Super PACs are strongly supporting him, erasing Nelson's money advantage. To win, Nelson needs to make inroads in the rural areas and the I-4 Corridor (which he has done in past elections,) but he may need to rely more on the I-4 Corridor because the rural areas are trending away from the Democrats.
Hawaii (Open Daniel Akaka (D)): I debated placing this race in the Tossup or Lean D status but I chose Lean D because of Hawaii's Democratic nature and favorite son Obama's presence on the ticket. Also, Republicans have done well in Hawaii previously because many voters in Hawaii traditionally support the incumbent (explaining why Bush performed well in Hawaii in 2004,) but this is an open race without an incumbent. This race pits Rep. Mazie Hirono (D) against former Gov. Linda Lingle (R) against each other in a rematch of the 2002 Gubernatorial race where Hirono lost by 5. Hirono however faces a primary challenge from former Rep. Ed Case (D). He is famous for playing spoiler in the 2010 Hawaii CD 1 special election where he took votes from Colleen Hanabusa (D) so Charles Djou (R) snuck by and won (Hanabusa won the seat in November though.) Most polls show Hirono with a slight lead though over Case. She also led by 5 in the last poll against Lingle (she polls better against Lingle than Case does.)
New Mexico (Open Jeff Bingaman (D)): This race pits two moderate representatives from Albuquerque against each other (Rep. Martin Heinrich (D) and former Rep. Heather Wilson (R).) Recently, the Sierra club who is backing Heinrich has been launching an ad blitz attacking Wilson for conservative environmental positions. It seems to be working because the most recent poll showed Heinrich up by 9, the largest lead he has enjoyed since April.
Tossup (8 seats)
Indiana (Open Richard Lugar (R)): This race is difficult to classify because no polls have been released for this race since late March (a Howey/DePauw poll showed the race tied,) but a close race is likely, even for Republican leaning Indiana. The Republican Legislature gave Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) a Republican leaning seat after redistricting which urged Donnelly to run for Senate (if Donnelly wins, Republican candidate and State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) is not going to be happy with the legislature.) Mourdock defeated 36 year incumbent Lugar in a primary by claiming Lugar was not conservative enough for Indiana (Democrats may win though because Mourdock may be too conservative for Indiana.) To win, Donnelly needs to convince the voters that is the case. He also needs to perform well in not only Indianapolis and the Chicago suburbs but also win a big margin out of St. Joseph County (South Bend,) which is in his district and hit 40%+ in heavily Republican Elkhart County which is also in his district. Donnelly's strong campaign skills (he survived 2010,) and moderate views should help him though.
Massachusetts (Scott Brown (R)): If any race this cycle takes the prize for the most competitive and exciting, it will be this one. Brown seemed to be invincible after winning Ted Kennedy's (D) former Senate seat in this heavily Democratic state in a 2010 Special Election. High profile Democrats such as Vicki Kennedy (Ted Kennedy's wife,) declined to run but Elizabeth Warren (D), Obama's nominee for the Consumer Protection Bureau decided to run. Her fundraising has been strong, she has raised $24.5 million so far, making her the 15th most successful fundraiser in Senate history and outraised Brown's $19.9 million. For Brown to win, he needs to win more than 2/3rds of the Independents because he won in 2010 by winning Independents in the Boston exurbs while underperforming in the college towns and Boston proper (but Obama should increase turnout in those areas and some colleges were not in session in the 2010 Special election.) In the end, I believe Warren should win by around 3-5 points as the turnout should be higher in the Democratic areas and her message could resonate with the traditionally Democratic suburban voters who supported Brown (Brown's last opponent Martha Coakley (D) was portrayed as out of touch but Warren is doing everything possible to appear in touch with the middle class.)
Missouri (Claire McCaskill (D)): I am worried about McCaskill's chances here. Missouri has been trending away from the Democrats recently; it was one of the few battleground states Obama lost in 2008. McCaskill won in 2006 by making inroads in rural areas but the rural areas have been trending far right recently (longtime Rep. Ike Skelton (D) from the rural areas recently lost his reelection race.) Also, Republicans face a tight primary with Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) receiving Sarah Palin's endorsement and leading in the last three polls. Her extremely conservative views may hinder her but she should probably beat McCaskill by a few points.
Montana (Jon Tester (D)): Rep. Danny Rehberg (R) is challenging Tester, a popular incumbent with strong campaign skills (who can forget his haircut ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joQi27QG7Cs) and his new ad with a similar Montana theme (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1pteKuWCEI&feature=channel&list=UL.) Rehberg however is well known and popular throughout this Republican leaning state, making it more difficult
Nevada (Dean Heller (R)): This is another chance for a Democratic pickup as Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) from Las Vegas challenges appointed Senator Heller, a former Representative from the northern part of the state. Berkley however has some ethics issues involving her husband's kidney transplant center. This does not seem to have affected her poll numbers. She is down by 3 points in most polls but polls in Nevada frequently understate Democratic strength due to the impressive Democratic GOTV operation. In the 2010 Senate race, all polls showed Harry Reid (D) down by 4 but he won by 5. Berkley is not taking any chances though. Recently Berkley is making a wise campaign move by campaigning heavily in Reno because voters there are unfamiliar with her. She does not want to repeat the 2006 gubernatorial race where Dina Titus (D), a Las Vegas centric candidate over performed in Vegas but lost because she underperformed in Reno. Heavy turnout in Las Vegas should help Berkley (Obama will be targeting Clark County too due to the large base there,) but unless she can win Clark County by more than 10 points, she needs to make inroads in Heller's base. Also, Hispanics are expected to turn out strongly for the Democrats so Berkley will receive help there. A personal anecdote was that I was calling some Nevada voters in late July for Obama and Berkley. I talked to a few Romney supporters but many of them were undecided on the Berkley/Heller race and Heller did not seem to be personally popular with many of the voters. This suggests that Berkley may be winning over some conservatives and is underperforming in the polls (also, no voters mentioned any of her ethics issues.)
North Dakota (Open Kent Conrad (D)): At first, this seat seemed to be an easy Republican pickup for Rep. Rick Berg (R). This race has narrowed after former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Hentkamp (D) announced her candidacy. A poll showed her ahead by 6 while showing Obama losing by 20. Many North Dakotans vote for the person, not the party and Berg is not very personally popular which works in Hentkamp's favor. North Dakota is a very Republican state though but they have ticket split for Senatorial candidates in the past so Hentkamp still has a great chance to win.
Virginia (Open Jim Webb (D)): This race pits two former Governors against each other, Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R). Most polls show this race to be extremely close although Kaine seems to have gained a slight edge. A Rasmussen poll (a Republican leaning polling firm,) with a likely voter model showed a dead heat between the two. Also, Allen may face some backlash from the racial slur “macaca” he said to a campaign worker for Jim Webb while complaining that the campaign worker would catch any gaffes he made. Also, another hopeful sign for Kaine is that Obama barely leads in Virginia and while there are many Romney-Kaine voters (a recent New York Times article showed how many southwest Virginians were ticket splitting,) but there were almost no Obama-Allen voters. For Kaine to win, he has to perform well in Northern Virginia, winning with 60%+ in Fairfax County and carrying bellwether Loudon County. Also, high African American turnout in the Hampton Roads/Richmond area should help Kaine too. Kaine and Allen are both well known so most voters have chosen a side so the candidates have to focus on turning out their voters.
Wisconsin (Open Herb Kohl (D)): Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) from Madison is running for the seat with an easy path to the nomination but the Republicans have a competitive primary. Former Governor Tommy Thompson (R) has a slight lead ahead of Baldwin in most polls but a recent PPP poll showed businessman Eric Hovde (R) in a close race for the nomination after Hovde released a barrage of attack ads on Thompson. This would help Baldwin because she performs better against Hovde in the polls. As for Baldwin, she is popular with the netroots and the Daily Kos crowd so she should no trouble raising money but she needs to appeal to the rural moderates of western Wisconsin. The 2012 Gubernatorial recall results showed that Democrats cannot win simply by having high turnout in Milwaukee and Madison, they have to win rural areas too. If Baldwin can do that, she has a strong chance at winning but Thompson seems to have a slight edge currently.
Lean Republican (1 seat)
Arizona (Open Jon Kyl (R)): Democrats seemed to have found a strong candidate here in former Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D). He served under George W. Bush and was a registered Independent until recently. The Republican candidate is Rep. Jeff Flake (R)-Mesa who is facing a primary challenge from the right but after receiving Palin’s endorsement, Flake seems to be on track to win the nomination. Carmona’s Hispanic background could help appeal to Arizona’s large Hispanic population or not because Carmona is Puerto Rican while most of Arizona’s Hispanics are Mexican and Carmona grew up in Harlem, not Arizona. There does not seem to be strong animosity between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans so Carmona’s background should help a bit however. Besides Rasmussen, most polls show Flake with a 2-4 point lead and Arizona’s Republican lean may be too strong for Carmona. This is still a race to watch though.
Likely Republican (1 seat)
Nebraska (Open Ben Nelson (D)): Conservative Democrat Ben Nelson has retired and Democrats found former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D), their best candidate to retake this seat. Kerrey was once very popular in Nebraska but since his Senate retirement, Kerrey has been President of Eugene Lang College in New York City, hurting his Nebraska roots. Also, polls have shown the Republican candidate Debbie Fischer (R) with a 10-18 point lead, suggesting this will be a Republican pickup.
Safe Republican: (5 seats)
Mississippi (Roger Wicker (R)): An easy win for Republicans in the heavily Republican state of Mississippi.
Tennessee (Bob Corker (R)): Corker faced a tough race in 2006 against Harold Ford (D) but Corker is now extremely popular and Tennessee has become more Republican.
Texas (Open Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R)): Democrats fielded a strong candidate in this race but he dropped out so Republicans will have a clear shot. The question now is whether Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (R) will beat tea party backed Ted Cruz (R) in the runoff for Senate.
Utah (Orrin Hatch (R)): Hatch is going nowhere in the extremely Republican state of Utah.
Wyoming (John Barrasso (R)): This is Wyoming.
Safe Independent: (1 seat)
Maine (Open Olympia Snowe (R)): Moderate Republican Snowe is retiring (who can blame her? She was a swing vote in the Senate and felt pressure from both parties.) This race seemed to be a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats until former Governor Angus King (I) threw his hat in the ring and polls show him ahead 20%+. He has not announced which party he will caucus with but his liberal leaning views such as his support for Obamacare and marriage equality suggest he may caucus with the Democrats. He also endorsed John Kerry for President in 2004 as well as endorsing Obama in both 2008 and 2012.
Overall, the ratings suggest that although Republicans could gain a few seats, it will probably not be enough to win the Senate. The Republicans will probably win Nebraska and five tossup seats are held by Democrats. Assuming Republicans win the Republican leaning tossups Missouri and Wisconsin, they have +3 seats which is not enough for a majority (this is assuming Democrats do not pickup any of the Republican held seats in Indiana, Massachusetts and Nevada,) so the Republicans will have to win both Montana and North Dakota to offset possible Democratic gains. Overall, the current situation suggests Republicans +2, assuming the Democrats win one of the Republican tossups.