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Competitive Races for Democratic Senate Seats     Permalink

The Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats to the Republicans' 10. Some of those races are expected to be quite competitive and might flip. Today we have a rundown of the races to watch for seats currently held by Democrats. We'll look at the competitive Republican seats in a few days.


Incumbent Challenger Notes
Bill Nelson

Candidate unknown

Florida is the mother of all swing states and will be bitterly fought over in 2012 as usual. With Mitt Romney as the expected Republican nominee, it could be a very close race, depending on who the Republican senatorial nominee is. In 2006, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) faced the deeply flawed and highly unpopular Katherine Harris. This time a slew of candidates are going after the nomination and a lot depends on how bloody the primary is and who wins it. The Republicans best hope is Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL), but he is by no means a shoo-in in the primary because he has to face former (appointed) senator George LeMieux. If Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is Romney's running mate, that will help the GOP's tcket generally.


Challenger Challenger Notes
Candidate unknown

Linda Lingle

Hawaii is a highly Democratic state and even with an open seat, the Democrat is strongly favored although there will be a primary between Rep. Maizie Hirono (D-HI) and former representative Ed Case. The Republicans' are likely to nominate former governor Linda Lingle. If the Democratic primary is especially bloody--a real possibility--then Lingle might have a shot at it, but if the Democratic winner emerges with some skin still on and some money in the bank, the Democrat is the favorite.


Incumbent Challenger Notes
Claire McCaskill

Candidate unknown

Missouri is perennially a swing state that Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) barely won in 2006. She is definitely in the fight of her life this time. In fact, Missouri is probably the Republicans' third best shot at a Senate pickup (after North Dakota and Nebraska). Her one advantage here is that the Republicans understand her vulnerability very well, so there are two top-flight contenders for the nomination, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman. If their primary gets nasty, the net effect could be to lower both of their approval ratings enough to let McCaskill slip by again.


Incumbent Challenger Notes
Jon Tester

Denny Rehberg

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) narrowly won in 2006 against an incumbent senator, Conrad Burns, but one fond of making outrageous statements. This time Tester will go up against the state's only congressman, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), who has better mouth control and has won statewide races since 1990. It is likely to be a close race.


Challenger Challenger Notes
Bob Kerrey

Candidate unknown

In case anyone was wondering why Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) has been such a gigantic pain in the tush to the Democrats for the last two years, the reason should now be clear: he had to win an election in an extremely red state in 2012. After much agonizing, he finally decided having to constantly fight both parties wasn't worth it, so he will retire at the end of his term, leaving the Democrats with the problem of finding a serious candidate. After much begging, the national Democratic Party convinced former Nebraska governor and senator, Bob Kerrey, to go for another hurrah. But before the Republicans can pick up an easy seat, they have to pick a candidate, and a serious multiway primary is underway between Attorney General Jon Bruning, Treasurer Don Stenberg, and state senator Deb Fischer. Whoever wins the Republican primary is the odds-on favorite in this very red state.

New Mexico

Challenger Challenger Notes
Candidate unknown

Candidate unknown

The surprise retirement of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) means that the Republicans have a shot at winning a seat in this increasingly blue state. However, neither party has an obvious candidate, so there will be competitive primaries in both parties. What happens in the general election will depend a lot on whom the candidates are. The top Democratic candidates are state auditor Hector Balderas and Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM). The top Republicans are Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R-NM) and former representative Heather Wilson.

North Dakota

Challenger Challenger Notes
Heidi Heitkamp

Rick Berg

With the unexpected retirement of Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), the Democrats are going to be hard pressed to keep this seat, no matter who wins the Republican primary. Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND) has already won statewide here and shouldn't have any trouble doing that again if he is the nominee, which is likely.


Challenger Challenger Notes
Tim Kaine

George Allen

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) won a real squeaker against George "Macaca" Allen in 2006 and probably could have beaten him again this time, but Webb decided that politics isn't so much fun after all. Since Allen, a former senator and former governor of the commonwealth, is the likely Republican nominee, the Democrats had to find a serious candidate quickly. They settled on Obama's handpicked DNC chairman, former Virginia governor Tim Kaine. Kaine is well liked in the state and a lot will depend on how well Obama does in the state, which he carried in 2008. Virginia has become a purple state, largely due to an influx of northerners in the counties close to D.C., and both the presidential and senatorial races are expected to be close.


Challenger Challenger Notes
Tammy Baldwin

Candidate unknown

The Democrats were hit by a double whammy here. On the one hand, their well-entrenched, extremely wealthy, popular incumbent, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) decided to retire at 76, even though he could have been easily elected to the Senate another two or three times were he to live long enough. To make this worse, their strongest candidate by far, former senator Russ Feingold, decided not to run for his seat, even though he would have been the odds-on favorite. Most likely, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will get the Democratic nomination. The Republicans have two serious candidates, former governor Tommy Thompson and former representative Mark Neumann. It could be a big fight between them. In any event, Kohl's retirement turned a sure-fire Democratic hold into a pitched battle.

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