First, I'd like to say I sincerely believe Republicans will win the Senate in 2012 and I thought this long before, and even after Senator Snowe's retirement announcement last week.
Consider that of the 33 Senate races, Republicans only have to defend 10 seats.
These are: Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Maine, and Texas.
Of these ten seats, the following five should be considered absolutely safe: Tennessee, Mississippi, Wyoming, Texas, Utah. You can practically put Arizona there, especially with sympathetic Rep. Gabby Giffords not running. I think Jeff Flake will hold on to John Kyl's seat, but in a state turning bluer due to immigration and the embattled stance of the immigration bill, my guess is in the next few election cycles, this once red state will turn blue like Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado unless we curb illegal immigration and the magnet Latinos are to the Democratic base. (currently 2:1 nationally, but polling 6:1 for Obama in 2012!)
Finally, that leaves just Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts in play. In a worst case-scenario, I think Republicans would win either Massachusetts or Nevada, but reports are increasing that Senator Scott Brown is actually doing better in Massachusetts among women and independent voters so, he may just keep that seat after all.
As for Nevada, Shelley Berkley isn't even a real Nevadan. Born in the Bronx, NY, she still has that thick New York accent that she can't hide, despite the fact she moved to the desert as a sophomore in high school. You can take the girl out of the Bronx and Brooklyn, but you can't take Brooklyn out of the girl, it seems! Heller has been doing about what I expected and the popular former Rep. certainly has a chance to keep his appointed seat.
Finally, Maine, if former popular 2 term Governor Argus King wins the seat as an independent, he'll likely caucus with the Democrats since that appears to be where his loyalities lie. However, Republican Paul LePage proved in 2010 Republicans can win statewide if this becomes a 3-way battle to which I obviously hope it does otherwise its lost to the Democrats.
Seats Democrats control but the Republicans should pick up
In no particular order, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Montana will all probably go to the Republicans rather easily if they nominate certain people.
First, North Dakota: Rep. Rick Berg vs. Democrat Heidi Heitkamp. Berg isn't the most popular or conservative Republican in the state, but 2010 was a wave year for Republicans as popular former Governor John Hoeven won easily in long-time Democrat Byron Dorgan's seat. Berg continued the red trend by flipping the state's lone At-Large House seat for the first time in 18 years when Earl Pomeroy lost. Its hard to see this state going back to blue as it has been trending red at the federal level finally after so many solid years at the state level.
Nebraska: Republicans had this seat easily won when Mr "Cornhusker Kickback" himself, Ben Nelson shamefully retired from the Senate effective in 2013. He knew he was a goner. Then former popular Senator Bob Kerrey announced he would run again, presumably for the good of his party after initally turning them down. Democrats thoguht they had a real coup here, but alas, the latest Rasmussen polls predict a big win for Jon Bruning and the Republicans.
Wisconsin: Looks good if Republicans nominate former two-term Governor Tommy Thompson who also served as President Bush's HHS Secretary once. He's constantly beaten Democrat Tammy Baldwin in every poll, unlike former Rep. the more conservative (or so I've been told)Mark Neumann, whom Red State endorses, or even a third Republican choice, whom I've never heard of, Jeff Fitzgerald. If Republicans truly want to win this seat, the best bet is easily the moderate Thompson, which isn't going to please a lot of people here but its true. He's not only led, but he's widened his lead and gives us the best chance to pick up a very winnable seat.
Virginia: Despite the fact that Virginia is polling for Obama, I don't think there is any chance in Hell that stays that way come November. After all, this is a state that not only flipped from the top down with Governor, Lt. Gov, and Attorney General in 2009, but elected 3 new Republicans to the House in Washington D.C. and clearly had buyer's remorse after flipping blue for Obama in 2008. Former Gov. Mark Warner is as good as gone come 2014 so that should give us some consolation too. Recent polls show former Senator George Allen with an 8 point lead over the very progressive former DNC Chair and Governor Tim Kaine. I'm not worried about this seat, even with places like Alexandria, Fairfax, and other DC suburb progressive places that gave us Rep. Jim Moran, who is actually a Buffalo, NY native, accent and all.
Montana: Republicans could have hoped for no other candidate than popular 3-term At-Large Rep. Denny Rehberg running for this seat. If he can't beat the very vunerable crew-cutted, Senator Jim Webb haircut wannabe, Jon Tester, than it just wasn't meant to be. Recent polls show him ahead and I expect it to stay this way. That's not to say its not going to be close, currently a 47-44% lead for Rehberg, but lapdog Tester hasn't done enough and Blue Dog's are overrated anyway. At the end of the day, Tester's a Democrat and has proven it in D.C.
If we pick up just these 5 seats but lose Nevada and Maine, that puts us at +3 from 2010 for a 50-50 split with VP Biden breaking the tie. However, there are a few more seats that are very much in play.
Florida: Republicans would be wise to nominate Connie Mack IV to run against Senator Bill Nelson. Mack, the son of former Senator Connie Mack III, is popular in South Florida and has excellent name recognition among Floridians. If he can't do it, much like Allen in Virginia, or better yet, Rehberg in Montana, it just wasn't meant to be for Republicans. Recent polling has Mack and Nelson in a 41% tie but Mack has also picked up endorsements from key state Republicans. Finally, while things look rosy for the GOP in the Sunshine state currently with 19/25 House members being Republicans, much like the rest of the country, the younger the voter, the more diverse and more liberal. Republicans have a small window to keep this seat and appeal to Latinos the same way Rubio does as a Tea Party favorite giving me some hope that not all is lost in unpredictable Florida.
New Mexico: I know, the seat being vacated by retiring Jeff Bingaman seems to be a lock in this deep navy blue state that is getting bluer, again due to large Latino influence. A recent FOXNEWS poll showed a 6:1 favorablity to Obama over any Republican candidate which is absolutely startling for this country and party's future if true. This disappointing demographic which should be voting Republican because of its Catholic faith and overrated perceived stances on abortion and the family structure (traditional marriage) appear to be presently lost to the Democrats at a 2:1 rate.
Why so confident? Republicans were lucky when the moderate but former 1st district Rep. Heather Wilson got a path to the nomination when conservative John Sanchez dropped out. Recent Valentine's Day polling has her in a 43-45% deficit to Democrat Martin Heinrich but the fact she's even in play says a lot. I'd written this race off and absolutely no polls nor projection sites has us winning this seat so it would be an absolute bonus. If Wilson, who lost her House seat in the 2008 Democratic wave, and whom has statewide name recognition can't do it, who can? A loss here, however, would all but end her political comeback and career.
States Republicans could win but probably won't.
Missouri: We don't even know who the likely Republican is to challenge incumbent and uninspiring Senator Claire McCaskill, but she's one of the politicans who seems to slip by. Missouri is a wierd state politically too, barely goes red but usually is a consistent red state. I personally don't see this state flipping but if it did, it would be another absolute bonus despite the fact she really shouldn't be that hard to beat. Not helping matters is the fact incumbent Democrat Jay Nixon is on the ballot for Governor and is currently projected to win, you guessedit, just barely.
Ohio: 34 year old State Treasurer Josh Mandel tries to take down the kooky and far-left Sherrod Brown in what used to be a Republican-held seat. Absolutely no poll has Republicans winning this seat but this at least gives me confidence. In a state whose Governor, state legislature, the other of their Senate seats, and 5 House seats all flipped Republican in 2010, there is no question what way this state is trending, much like Virginia. The only question is, with their unemployment rate going down and Gov. Kasich brining jobs to the state, who will voters credit, him or Obama for these changes?
You can look at the rest of the races here, but I don't personally see any more seats in play. Stay tuned for part II of my diary which will preview the 2014 Senate races and an even more likely chance we finish the job in two years, if for some unknown reason, we don't do it in November.