Tags: democrats | 2012 | senate | losing | seats

US Democrats Face Tough 2012 Fight to Keep Senate

Tuesday, 05 Apr 2011 03:49 PM

While President Barack Obama's re-election bid hogs the political spotlight in 2012, his fellow Democrats face a tough battle to hold their slender majority in the U.S. Senate.

Republicans need to pick up only four seats to take over control of the 100-member Senate and have a favorable electoral map to help them. Democrats must defend 23 of the 33 seats up for grabs -- including five seats in states won by Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008.

The stakes are high for Obama, who could win a second White House term but see his chances for legislative achievement die in a Congress where both chambers -- if Republicans hold their House of Representatives majority -- are run by his political opponents.

"You start with the raw numbers and it's obvious Democrats have a problem," said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "Their Senate majority is absolutely at risk."

Vice President Joe Biden cited the issue in a recent fund-raising pitch for Senate Democrats.

"At a moment when the stakes are highest, Democrats in the Senate face the toughest electoral climate we've seen in a long time," Biden said in an e-mail to supporters.

Republicans won control of the House and picked up Senate seats in last year's elections on a wave of anti-Washington voter dissatisfaction with Obama, the stumbling economy and runaway government spending and deficits.

This time around, Republicans hope to tag vulnerable Democratic incumbents with the same out-of-touch, big-spender label that worked so well at last year's elections.

"Every one of these Democrats has a record -- they voted for the healthcare bill, they voted for all this spending, they voted to raise taxes -- and that record is going to be litigated for the next 19 months," said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the Republican Senate campaign committee.

But Senate Democrats are counting on help from several factors in next year's election, including continued improvement in the economy, which has seen recent gains in key indicators led by small drops in the unemployment rate.

 

A BETTER CLIMATE

They also expect Democratic turnout to rise in a presidential election year as Obama, whose approval ratings have stabilized in the mid to high 40s, woos the young, first-time, minority and independent voters who helped propel him to victory in 2008.

The date of the election is Nov. 6, 2012.

"The political climate for Democrats is going to be better on Election Day than it is today," said Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic campaign committee.

"2012 is not going to be 2010. So many things are different," Canter said. "In a presidential election year, the electorate is different. The economy is improving, and the Republicans will have another series of divisive primaries."

Democrats hope Republican primary battles between candidates aligned with the conservative Tea Party movement and those favored by the party establishment will weaken some Republican Senate nominees in 2012 as it did last year.

Those battles aided Democratic wins in Nevada, Delaware and Colorado, although Tea Party favorite Rand Paul of Kentucky sailed to victory and the conservative activists who make up the movement have become a driving force in the party.

The growing power of Tea Party fiscal conservatives has fueled the congressional battle over spending and debt, although many Republicans fear the party will take the public blame for any government shutdown as it did in 1995.

Republican Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Olympia Snowe of Maine are all potential targets of Tea Party challengers in primaries next year.

Even without a primary challenge, Democratic incumbents Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida and Sherrod Brown of Ohio face their own tough re-election battles.

Obama's influence could cut both ways next year. Five of the Senate seats held by Democrats -- North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Missouri and West Virginia -- are in states Obama lost in 2008.

"You can't on the one hand say Obama is going to be a huge benefit in some states and ignore the fact that five Democrats represent states he lost in 2008. He could hurt them there," Walsh said.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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While President Barack Obama's re-election bid hogs the political spotlight in 2012, his fellow Democrats face a tough battle to hold their slender majority in the U.S. Senate. Republicans need to pick up only four seats to take over control of the 100-member Senate and...
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