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’12 Senate Battles on Democratic Turf

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Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is among the top targets for Republicans itching to win back the Senate in 2012, and the GOP thinks the path to victory might travel through Florida.

An early look at the 2012 landscape shows Democratic incumbents are the most vulnerable heading into the next cycle, with double the number of Democrats on the ballot as Republicans.

Senate Democrats have no obvious pick to lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and they face an enthusiastic and newly buoyed Republican caucus with a real chance at winning back control of the chamber in two years.

There are 33 seats on the ballot on Nov. 6, 2012. The field will narrow and grow complicated as Senators inevitably decide to retire along the way and as contenders step up to run. But here’s a comprehensive look at the map as it stands today. Roll Call Politics has seven states in the Tossup category and 12 states that are only in the Leans category to remain held by the respective Senator’s current party. Several Republicans may face primaries from the right, but GOP operatives tell Roll Call their bosses learned their lessons from watching Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah) lose the Republican nomination at a convention and won’t take their party’s support for granted.

Here are the Roll Call Politics race ratings as they stand today — before most challengers are known and as not a single Senator has announced his or her retirement.


Tossup

Connecticut

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID)

This race should be among the more entertaining this cycle, although much will depend on Lieberman.

The four-term incumbent has yet to decide if he’ll run again. And if he does, it’s unclear whether he’ll run as a Democrat or Republican or keep his current Independent label.

There isn’t an easy path. He will almost certainly face a competitive primary should he run with either party, and there is broad agreement that a second Independent run could spell disaster given his low approval rating back home.

That’s because Republicans ran only token opposition in 2006, allowing Lieberman to claim victory with substantial GOP support. That’s far less likely this time around, as a possible field of far more credible challengers has already emerged. People to watch include unsuccessful 2010 Senate candidate Linda McMahon, businessman Christopher Meek, former Rep. Rob Simmons and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley.

On the Democratic side, possible contenders include Rep. Christopher Murphy and Edward Kennedy Jr., son of the late Senator and an investment banker.

Lieberman, of course, could always choose to retire, although he reported $1.3 million in his war chest as of Sept. 30.

Florida

Sen. Bill Nelson (D)

Nelson, first elected in 2000, intends to seek a third term. His campaign team sounds confident he will win over the state’s voters despite Republican gains in 2010 statewide, and he has $2.9 million in the bank. Nelson easily deflected former Rep. Katherine Harris in 2006.

Florida, always a critical battleground in a presidential year, will hold even more importance for White House contenders in 2012, so expect money and attention to flow to the Sunshine State sooner rather than later.

Florida Republicans say they have an abundance of potential candidates to challenge Nelson, though no one has stepped forward with an official announcement.

“Republicans here are really eager to take out the last remaining statewide Democrat,” said Republican Party of Florida spokesman Dan Conston.

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Map

map of 2012 senate race ratings

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