Democrats' Senate majority could be scaled far back 

Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia is saying that if the Senate elections were somehow held today, rather than next November, Democrats would lose another seven seats and would be reduced to a 52-48 majority. One of those 52, of course, would be Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Sabato is no partisan shill; he was quick to note how Republican fortunes were falling in the 2006 and 2008 cycles. 

He sees the Democrats losing the following seats if the elect ion were held today: Arkansas (Blanche Lincoln), Colorado (appointee Michael Bennet), Delaware (appointee Ted Kaufman, who is not running), Illinois (appointee Roland Burris, who is not running), Nevada (Harry Reid), North Dakota (Byron Dorgan, who is not running), Pennsylvania (Arlen Specter).  He sees Republicans as holding open seats that seemed 366 days ago to be in jeopardy in Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio.

In my judgment only three of these races look like absolute locks for the Republicans: Arkansas, Nevada and North Dakota. But note that all but two of the states mentioned so far (Arkansas and Kentucky) voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Two, Delaware and Illinois, voted 62% for Obama—the same percentage, rounded off, as Massachusetts. And Sabato rates the seat held by New York appointee Kristin Gillibrand as a Democratic hold, even though polls show her trailing far behind former Governor George Pataki if he becomes a candidate. 

As Sabato notes, the political landscape can change between now and November, and the balance of enthusiasm, which currently favors Republicans (or, rather, disfavors Democrats), could change, and even more quickly.

Assuming Harry Reid is defeated and the elections come out as Sabato projects they would today, the new majority leader (Dick Durbin? Chuck Schumer?) would have a hard time holding his 52-vote Caucus together. Lieberman would be a problem on some issues. Would Democrats want to antagonize him by depriving him of committee and subcommittee chairmanships?

Democratic senators from Republican-leaning states, whose Democratic colleagues have just been defeated (or whose Republican colleagues have just won), might be hard to herd: Arkansas’s Mark Pryor, Colorado’s Mark Udall, Florida’s Bill Nelson, Missouri’s Clair McCaskill, New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, North Dakota’s Kent Conrad, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey—not to mention Louisiana’s ever-nervous Mary Landrieu and Nebraska’s now-scrambling Ben Nelson.

This is not a scenario Senate Democrats have given much thought to before this month. Now it looks like one possible reality they may have to deal with.

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Michael Barone

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