Thursday, July 21, 2011 | 10:33 a.m.
Let’s start the day with some math: Senate math, based on the latest 2012 forecasts, published today by Roll Call.
The paper’s “Senate Spectacular” is published to titillate Washington’s campaign senses right before the August recess, the first real campaign season for most lawmakers.
But the map of likely, leaning, and tossup states is also a visual summary of the election challenge Sen. Harry Reid faces if he wants to remain Majority Leader. Their guess as to a result? It’s too close to call.
Reid’s got 53 seats in the present Senate: 51 Democrats, and 2 Independents who side with the Democrats.
Twenty-three of those Democratic seats are up for review next November, due to required re-ups or retirements. Republican seats in play add another ten to the electoral mix.
So let’s build up from the bottom. If you take away all the seats that are in play, Reid’s got 30 Democrats solidly in place after 2012, while his Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has got 37.
If you add to each column all the seats that are rated “safe” for one party or the other, those numbers creep up almost in tandem: Reid gets six more, bringing his total to 36, and McConnell gets five more, bringing his total to 42. And we see our first flip: Kent Conrad’s seat in North Dakota is expected to go from Democrat to Republican when he retires at the end of this term.
Next, the “likelies” — seats that aren’t considered a lock, but where a result that runs counter to common wisdom would be a significant surprise. Here, Reid closes his gap with McConnell slightly: there are six Senate races that are considered “likely” to bend to Democrats, while only three are “likely” to go Republican. No flips at this level. So Reid’s total jumps to 42, and McConnell stays slightly ahead with 45.
Now we’re in the territory where things can swing. For everything that follows, you’ll likely see polls contradicting and bashing each other over the next several months; but for now, let’s work with the map that we have in front of us.
With all the predictable races carefully filed to either side, there’s still thirteen seats unaccounted for; more than enough to swing any Senate.
Which way most of them will swing is anybody’s guess.
Roll Call ranks eight seats as total Tossups in 2012. But to get a sense of just how critical those Tossup races will be in deciding the leadership of the Senate, consider the field heading into that last lightning round of races.
If one takes Roll Call’s advice that Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia all “lean” toward their Democratic incumbents, and that Arizona “leans” toward the Republicanism of its outgoing Senator, Jon Kyl, Reid and McConnell end up neck-and-neck: divvying up those seats by Roll Call’s rationale gives them 46 Senators each.
Thus, the final eight states that are likely to determine the make-up of the Senate are Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Each, of course, presents a unique electoral challenge for either party.
But if you consider what the collective stakes are in those states, it boils down to a bad Christmas carol-like countdown: five wins needed to clinch the majority, four retiring senators* (*if you include John Ensign’s departure), three defending/incumbent Democrats, two defending/incumbent Republicans, and one majority leadership. (Pear tree optional.)