The Green Papers
The Green Papers

Part 1: the United States Senate

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson Staff
Thu 28 Oct 2010

NOTE: The commentaries in this series are not attempts to predict the outcome of the 2010 Midterm Elections; instead, they are merely intended as a guide for those who will be watching/listening to the election returns as they come in during the evening, US time, on General Election Day: Tuesday 2 November 2010.

The most obvious analogy to this year's Midterm Elections is from the rather recent past- 1994: the year of the rise (if not also rising up!) of the "Contract with America" Republicans led by then-Congressman Newt Gingrich of Georgia, to be exact. While analogies are merely illustration and never proof and any analogy is just that- an analogy- and not at all a perfect replica, the political situation now 16 years ago- at least insofar as the Congress of the United States is concerned- was, indeed, eerily similar to the political landscape of today!

Two years earlier, a new Democratic President of the United States had been elected at the same time as Federal Elections in which Democrats had retained control of both houses of Congress (same as was the case two years ago now): after those 1992 Elections, the Grand Old Party held but 43 of 100 Senate seats (after those of 2008, the 41 Senators were Republican) and 176 of 435 members of the House of Representatives were Republican immediately after 1992 (immediately after the 2008 Federal Elections, there were 178 GOP Congressmen).

As Bill Clinton first settled into the White House, a Special Election during the ensuing Congress would, even before the next General Election, deliver a long-held Democratic Senate seat into Republican hands (specifically, those of Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, so specially elected to replace Lloyd Bentsen- who had resigned to become Bill Clinton's first Treasury Secretary), just as the election of Scott Brown of Massachusetts to replace the late Ted Kennedy would do earlier this very year (Mr. Brown's election, however, merely returned the GOP Senate seat total to its post-election level of 41 because Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania had already switched Parties by the time of the Special Election in the Bay State; Mrs. Hutchison's original election to the Senate was, in fact, a net gain of 1 for her Party).

Back in 1994, then, the Grand Old Party needed- in the ensuing Midterm Elections- a net gain of at least 7 seats to gain control of the Senate and a net gain of 40 House seats to take over Congress' first chamber (by comparison: the net gains needed going into the 2010 Elections are 10 and 42, respectively).

In this Commentary, I'll be taking a look at the stakes regarding political control of the United States Senate first:

In early November 1994, 35 Senate seats were at stake: 33 so-called 'Class 1' seats up for new 6-year terms plus 2 Special Elections to fill shorter term vacancies (by contrast-- come early November 2010, 37 Senate seats are up for grabs: 34 'Class 3' seats plus 3 being filled by Special Election [yes, I know: there are really 4 Special Elections to the U.S. Senate being held next Tuesday, but Illinois' happens to be one that is taking place at the same time as the election for the full term to the same seat and it is to the winner of the full term that attention will be, rightfully, most paid]).

Back in 1994, the Political Party breakdown of total Senate seats at stake going into that election was 22 Democrats, 13 Republicans (by comparison, the breakdown going into 2 November 2010 is 19 Democrats, 18 Republicans): in the '94 Elections- and needing 7 seats, as I've already noted, to win the Senate- the GOP managed to pick up a net of 8 (a 9th Democratic seat would go Republican the day after that Election when Richard Shelby of Alabama switched Parties: Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado would do the same the following Spring-- though neither of these pick-ups were the direct result of actions by the voters in their respective States [however: both Shelby and Campbell would win re-election to the Senate as candidates of their new Party come 1998])... the question well begs: how did the Republicans get that 8 Senate seat net gain back in 1994?

The answer?: primarily by not losing a single Republican Senate seat at stake to the Democrats! Yes, indeed... all 13 GOP seats up for grabs back then were filled by newly elected or re-elected Republicans: thus, all 8 gains by the Republicans that November day were takeaways (though in only 2 of the 8 were incumbent Democrats actually defeated by Republican challengers [interestingly, in all 14 Senate seats the Democrats managed to hold onto in '94, it was incumbents who were re-elected (suggesting that, overall, it was far more difficult to take a seat away where those who already held it were running for re-election, even in a political climate most unfavorable to the Party of said incumbent candidates [in all, Democratic Party incumbents had been able to hold onto 7/8 of said seats in '94]); meanwhile, 10 Republican incumbents were also re-elected in 1994 while, as regards the remaining 3 Republican seats up for grabs 16 years back, GOP freshmen would replace retiring Republican Senators]).

Thus, the first- and most obvious- question, as we take a first look at the 2010 Senate Elections, to ask is the following: can the Republicans hold onto all 18 Senate seats they are defending in 2010 (this being 5 more than the Grand Old Party had to "protect" 16 years ago)?

If our analysis of the 1994 Midterm Elections is any, however rough, guide: one guidepost, at least, is that the challenging Party (that is: the Party not in control of either house of Congress nor the Presidency) in a political climate such as this (a climate also eerily similar to that back in 1994: the first-term Democratic President and his Party were under siege because of, among other controversial issues of the day- oh, my: look at this!- public Health Care!! [;-)]) generally does not lose United States Senate seats where its own incumbents are running for re-election. Going into 2010, there are 10 Republican Senators running for re-election (interestingly, the same number that were so running back in '94) and, indeed, all of these are in States most of which are generally considered to be more friendly to the GOP than to the Democrats of late (Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota)-- thus, it is more than likely that the 10 Republican incumbents seeking re-election, as was the case back in 1994, will keep their Senate seats.

The next thing to look at is if any of the other 8 currently Republican seats in the Senate, those in which an incumbent is not running for re-election in this General Election, are vulnerable (keep in mind that, for every currently GOP seat a Democrat might win in this election, the Republicans would then have to pick up one more currently Democratic seat in order to win enough [again, the GOP net gain will have to be 10 seats] to take political control of the Senate in the new 112th Congress): these seats are those in Alaska, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and Utah.

Assuming, for the sake of the argument, that new Republicans are, indeed, elected to these 8 open GOP seats come 2 November 2010 (likely, though not as likely as the 10 incumbent Republicans being re-elected), then the Grand Old Party will have done what the Party also did 16 years ago and not have conceded a single Senate seat they already hold to the Democrats (or, for that matter, any non-Democrat running as an Independent).

As for the Democrats, there are 12 of that Party's current 19 Senate seats in which the incumbent is running for re-election (in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Nevada, both seats from New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin). According to the best available polling data as I type this, the 6 seats most likely to be retained by the Democrats are all among these, meaning fully half of these 12 are ripe for the taking (this doesn't mean the GOP will actually win all 6 [Arkansas, California, Colorado, Nevada, Washington and Wisconsin], just that these are among the currently Democratic Senate seats to most watch as the returns come in next Tuesday evening).

This leaves 7 Senate seats up for election this year in which the Democratic incumbent is not on the ballot (Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) and these, obviously, are the most likely targets for Republicans to try and pick off: all of these- along with the "vulnerable 6" I noted in the preceding paragraph- are the ones to watch most closely as the returns come in--13 in all.

As I noted before, the Democrats lost only 1/8 of their incumbent Senate seats back in 1994 and still lost control of the Senate; for the Republicans to keep the Democrats from repeating that, the GOP need win only 3 of the 19 seats currently held by Democrats (though, assuming- in this case- the GOP has also won all of the "vulnerable 6" Democratic seats being defended by incumbents this time round without losing any Senate seat currently held by a Republican, they would still be 1 seat short of taking control of the Senate in this case).

Put another way: should the Republicans, next Tuesday, protect all 18 of their currently held Senate seats, defeat half (3) of the "vulnerable 6" Democratic incumbents and take 4 of the 7 (a little more than half) of the open Democratic Senate seats, while a significant accomplishment, the GOP would still be 3 Senate seats short of winning control of the Senate in the 112th Congress. Thus, the GOP will have to do better than this in this year's Midterm Elections (say, take 6 of 7 open Democratic seats and defeat 4 of the "vulnerable 6" incumbent Democrats or win 5 of the 7 open seats currently occupied by Democrats and 5 of the "vulnerable 6", and so on) in order to gain the net 10 seats they would need for Senate control... all of which is certainly do-able!

Again, the 13 currently Democratic Senate seats to most watch, as the returns come in next Tuesday, will be those from Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin... assuming, if only for sake of this commentary, the GOP protects all 18 of its currently held seats (and also presuming the safest 6 Democratic Senate seats are, indeed, so safe), the Republicans will need to win 10 of these 13 to take control of the Senate away from the Democrats.

There!... you now have your United States Senate "scorecard" for the 2010 Federal Elections...

bring your popcorn!!

Modified .