Democrats are salivating at the prospect of recapturing the Senate in 2016.
With 24 of the 34 seats up in this cycle now held by Republicans, Democrats are hoping to make up for the ground they lost in 2010 and 2014 in the upper chamber. The decisions by GOP Sens. Dan Coats of Indiana and and Marco Rubio of Florida not to seek re-election whets their appetites further.
But not so fast! A close analysis of the seats in play shows that the composition of the 2017 Senate is not likely to be much different from its current makeup.
Indiana, one of the two states where a vacant seat attracts Democratic interest, is a solidly Republican state. Carried by Romney in 2012, it only elected a Democratic senator in 2012 because Richard Mourdock, the Republican nominee, called a pregnancy stemming from a rape "something God intended."
Barring such self-immolation, there is no reason not to believe that the Republicans will hold the Coats seat.
Republicans might lose the Rubio seat in Florida, but the possible loss might be offset by a GOP victory in the Nevada seat vacated by Democrat Harry Reid. Florida and Nevada are genuine tossup states. Barack Obama beat Romney in the Sunshine State by only 0.9 percent of the vote, the smallest margin of victory for the president in any state. Republican Gov. Rick Scott won re-election two years later by only 1.1 percent. Florida could go either way.
But so could Nevada. Republican Brian Sandoval won the governorship in 2010, defeating Rory Reid — Harry's son — by 52-48. In 2014, he was re-elected with 70 percent of the vote. While Obama carried Nevada in both elections, Nevadans elected Republican Dean Heller to the Senate, albeit by a margin of only 1.2 percent of the vote.
Beyond these two tossup states, the best Democratic hope for a pickup is Illinois, where Republican Sen. Mark Kirk is handicapped by the possible lingering effects of a stroke he suffered early in his tenure. Kirk's efforts to sanction Iran, however, give him a great issue to take into the election.
Still, Illinois is a quintessentially Democratic state and could revert to form in 2016.
But Republicans could well offset any losses by winning in Colorado, where Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, the surprise winner of a tight race in 2010, is up for re-election. Having won by only 1.6 percent in 2010 despite a terribly flawed campaign by Republican tea party favorite Ken Buck, Bennet should be in the GOP crosshairs this year.
Republican Sen. Cory Gardner's upset win in 2014 in Colorado and two Republican congressional takeaways in 2010 could indicate a swing to the right in this formerly reliable Republican state.
And don't forget — as Democrats tend to — Washington state, where Democratic Sen. Patty Murray survived a strong challenge from Republican Dino Rossi by only 52-48.
In the two weeks before the 2010 election, Rossi was running even or slightly ahead of Murray, forcing her to turn to slashing negative ads in the final days. Rossi, ineptly, failed to answer the attacks and they did their damage. But Murray is no shoo-in this time around.
Wisconsin could pose a problem for Republicans as GOP Sen. Ron Johnson seeks to turn back a challenge from Democrat Russ Feingold, whom he defeated in 2010 by 5 points. With Scott Walker's increasingly successful runs in Wisconsin and Johnson's record as senator, it is hard to see this state electing Feingold.
Sen. Ron Portman of Ohio, elected in 2010 with 57 percent of the vote, faces Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland, who lost to John Kasich by 2 points in 2010. Portman should be able to keep his seat.
Democrats hope that GOP Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania or Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire could prove vulnerable, but it's not very likely.
So the Democrats could lose Nevada and Colorado. And the Republicans could lose Illinois and Florida. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
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