USA 2012: Democrats holding on to the Senate


After early signs indicating that the Democrats were in danger of losing control of the Senate this week, it now looks like the Democrats are set on maintaining their majority, with the most likely outcome seeing both parties maintaining the same number of seats in the Senate, although a number of seats are expected to change hands.

The Democrats won control of the Senate in 2006, and then increased their numbers in 2008, briefly gaining a 60-seat majority in the Senate from the time of Arlen Specter’s switching of parties until the loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts in January 2010.

In 2010, the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives, and a number of seats in the Senate. Despite the swing against the Democrats, they managed to hold onto a slim majority in the Senate, with 51 Democrats and two independents who have caucused with the Democrats.

Part of the reason for Democratic victories in 2010 was due to Republicans choosing more extreme, less palatable candidate who were unable to win races in states like Nevada and Delaware.

In 2012, the Democrats were expected to struggle to maintain their majority. The Democrats had performed extremely strongly in 2006, with 21 Democrats, 10 Republicans and 2 Democrat-leaning independents elected. In contrast, the Republicans hold 37 out of 67 seats that are not up for election in 2012. This would mean that the Democrats would need to win a large majority of Senate races in order to maintain a slim majority overall.

However the campaign hasn’t gone well for the Republicans. The Republicans had an uphill battle to retain Scott Brown’s seat in Massachusetts, where he faced a more progressive electorate and a strong candidate in Elizabeth Warren. In Maine, the Republicans had held both Senate seats long after most of New England moved to the Democrats. With Olympia Snowe’s retirement, the seat looks set to go to an independent.

In two other states, Republican prospects have been ruined after two hard-right candidates defeated moderate candidates, and then got into trouble over comments regarding abortion in cases of rape.

In Indiana, sitting Republican senator Richard Lugar was defeated in the primary by Richard Mourdock. Mourdock got into trouble after making comments about pregnancy caused by rape being ‘what God intended’. The latest polling indicates that, despite Indiana leaning strongly to the Republicans, Mourdock is likely to lose to the Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly.

In Missouri, sitting Democratic senator Claire McCaskill was expected to have a lot of trouble retaining her seat, but her challenger Todd Akin also was hurt by his comments about ‘legitimate rape’, and current projections have McCaskill on track to retain her seat.

Apart from Massachusetts and Indiana, the Democrats are also on track to win back Connecticut’s Senate seat, which is currently held by Joe Lieberman, a former Democratic vice-presidential candidate who has served as an independent since 2006.

The Democrats are also likely to lose three seats in Republican-leaning states, with relatively conservative Senators either losing or retiring in North Dakota, Nebraska and Montana.

Overall, the Democrats and Republicans are each expected to lose three seats, with one retiring independent being replaced by another. This result would produce a Senate with 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and 2 independents: the same as the current Senate.

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