The odds in the 2012 Senate elections already favor the GOP. With Democrats defending 23 seats versus only 10 seats for the GOP, raising money to protect all the incumbents will be difficult. Beyond the large number of seats being defended, Democrats are faced with 6 retirements, compared to only 2 for the GOP.
The highly regarded Cook Political Report gives the GOP the advantage in 8 of their ten races, with the remaining two counted as toss-ups. Democrats are already behind on this count too, defending eight seats listed in the toss-up column.
But if the lopsidedness of the battle weren’t enough, the GOP is doing its best to recruit candidates with name recognition and big money, putting Democrats on their heels in their own strongholds. In Hawaii and Connecticut the GOP is pushing the Democrats to play hard, spending a lot of money that could otherwise be used in more traditionally competitive states.
In Hawaii, where Democratic senator Daniel Akaka is retiring, the GOP has secured former Governor Linda Lingle as a candidate. While she is facing a primary, Lingle is the state’s most popular Republican and will likely be the nominee, putting the Democrats in the somewhat rare position of having a tough race in Hawaii, where they will surely have to spend a lot of money defending a stronghold.
In Connecticut, where Independent-Democrat senator Joe Lieberman is retiring, the GOP has a wide primary race underway. One of the primary candidates is former senate nominee and former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, Linda McMahon. McMahon did wonders for the GOP in 2010 by opening up her own bank account and pouring a massive amount of money into the Connecticut race. A lesser funded candidate would have allowed the eventual winner, Senator Richard Blumenthal, to avoid the costly ad buys he made and perhaps even to send money to fellow Democrats in other states. Surely former Senate Democrats like Russ Feingold and Blanche Lincoln would have appreciated the support.
Money draining strategies could be even more effective for the GOP in 2012 than they were in 2010. Democrats have already expressed frustration that President Obama isn’t sharing the wealth—of campaign dollars that is—and that they are starving for cash. And, in 2010 Democrats weren’t defending such a large proportion of the seats up for election.
The GOP has proven increasingly adept at draining Democrats of money and time during campaign season. In the recent Wisconsin recall elections—which were a major coup for Democrats—the GOP stemmed the tide by running ‘fake’ Democrats against their opponents to draw out the election process. The strategy gave GOP incumbents time to prepare their campaigns and raise cash of their own after the surprise attack they were given by Democrats.
There are currently 47 Republicans and 53 Democrats (including the two independent senators that caucus with the Democrats) in the Senate. That means that a gain of only four seats will give the GOP control of the upper house of Congress. Republicans need only hold on to the ten seats they are defending and split the remaining toss ups to take control of the Senate.