The Wall Street Journal reported on what we’ve been speculating on: that the GOP’s renewed culture war is calling into question the party’s ability to recapture the United States Senate this year. “The GOP is facing a tougher fight on a landscape that hasn’t stopped changing. In states such as Maine, Nebraska and North Dakota, Senate races that had once looked like slam-dunks for the GOP have become far more competitive. Democrats may not win all those states, and they are still at serious risk of losing their majority. But they are forcing Republicans to fight on a much broader and more expensive battlefield. The result is that the campaign for the Senate, which was already promising to be one of the fiercest fights of the year, is beginning to resemble the topsy-turvy GOP presidential primary, characterized by sudden shifts in fortune among candidates.”
Since the 2010 midterms, Democrats have worried about their grip on the Senate, an institution that is crucial for both parties given the current political alignment in Washington. Democrats hold a 53-47 majority. Of the 33 Senate seats up for re-election, 21 are Democratic and two are independents who caucus with the party—and many are in conservative states. The party’s standing was further eroded by a string of retirement decisions. Incumbents in swing states including Wisconsin, New Mexico and Virginia said they wouldn’t seek new terms, turning what would have been safe Democratic seats into competitive races.
The Journal examines 4 prominent races that have recently taken turns in the Democrats’ favor, especially last week’s shocker that centrist Republican Senator Olympia Snowe wouldn’t seek reelection after all. In Maine, that virtually clinches the seat for popular former governor Angus King, a left-leaning independent.
The biggest question to my mind is how the eventual Republican nominee effects the down-ticket races like Senate seats. It’s now obvious that the race will now stretch well into May — and possibly the convention itself in August in Tampa — before a nominee becomes clear. In the interim we’re likely to hear more culture war fodder as Santorum tries to force Gingrich from the race and further differentiate himself from Romney. If the nominee is Santorum, I’ll say it here: not only will the GOP lose the Presidential race, they’ll snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the Senate too. And if it’s Romney, the enthusiasm gap will strongly favor the President and incumbent Democrats defending those 21 seats.
Garry Trudeau, the genius behind the comic strip Doonesbury, cited the biggest reason for the Republican’s loosening grip on the Senate best: “For some reason, the GOP has chosen 2012 to re-litigate reproductive freedom, an issue that was resolved decades ago. Why Santorum, Limbaugh et al. thought this would be a good time to declare war on half the electorate, I cannot say…I thought reproductive rights was a settled issue. Who knew we had turned into a nation of sluts?”