Just how much do Democrats stand to lose this year?

A rundown of this year's Senate races, and why the future for Democrats is looking bleak


Alex Koppelman
January 26, 2010 2:48AM (UTC)

As if Democrats didn't have enough reasons to be good and scared about what's going to happen to their party this fall, Beau Biden's announcement that he won't seek his dad's old Senate seat adds another to the laundry list. Despite the fact that the party has a 59-seat majority in the Senate right now, it really can't afford to be giving any away, and that's what Biden's move may end up doing.

As things stand right now, it seems just about impossible to believe that the Republicans will take back the Senate in November. But it's likely they'll take a sizable chunk out of the Democrats.

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From the 59 seats the Democrats currently hold, you can almost certainly subtract at least three: In addition to the vice-president's old seat, North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan's retirement all but gives his to the GOP, and Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln seems doomed. That takes them down to 56. Then there's a very big name who, according to recent polling -- and FiveThirtyEight.com's Nate Silver -- seems like he's about to have some more time to spend with his family: Majority Leader Harry Reid. That's 55.

From there, things are less clear. In Pennsylvania, Sen. Arlen Specter, the newly minted Democrat, is still having real trouble against his old Republican primary nemesis, former Rep. Pat Toomey. Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's race seems like a toss-up now, but it gets tougher if Rep. Mike Pence, a high-ranking House Republican, gets in. In Colorado, which had been trending blue, Sen. Michael Bennet, who was appointed when Ken Salazar became secretary of the interior, is vulnerable, and he can't count on the wave of Latino voters that the Obama campaign brought to the polls in 2008. If all of them lose -- not by any means a certainty, but let's just assume it for the sake of argument -- then the Democrats are down to 52.

After that, there are a few real long shots, the kinds of things we might have written off as ridiculous before Republican Scott Brown won the special election to replace Sen. Ted Kennedy. Those are in Illinois, where Sen. Roland Burris won't run to keep President Obama's former seat, and in California, where Republicans are trying to mount a real campaign against Sen. Barbara Boxer. If, somehow, Democrats dropped both of those, they'd be down to 50 seats.

There are, however, also some chances for the Democrats to make up for losses. Ohio Sen. George Voinovich's retirement leaves an opening for the party to take one back from the Republicans in a state that's been going pretty blue ever since 2004. Similarly, there's a Democratic opportunity in Missouri Sen. Kit Bond's exit.

And there are a couple longshots: The party thinks it has a chance in Kentucky, even with the unpopular Sen. Jim Bunning having finally been forced out by his fellow Republicans. And in Florida, things seemed locked up for Gov. Charlie Crist, but he's taking serious fire from the right in a primary now, and suddenly looks like he might be beatable, if he even makes it to the general.

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Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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