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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.

Republicans with known statewide ambitions are considering running, according to GOP strategists in California. They include state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a former Silicon Valley businessman who lost this year’s gubernatorial primary to Meg Whitman, and Rep. Darrell Issa, who has previously run for governor and Senate and will soon be taking over the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Meanwhile, Fiorina and Whitman remain possibilities.

Hawaii

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D)

Age was an issue for Akaka in 2006, when he faced a Democratic primary challenge from then-Rep. Ed Case. Akaka will be 88 years old by Election Day 2012, but he has told local reporters he will run for a fourth full term.

Any potential GOP challengers will be waiting to see whether outgoing Republican Gov. Linda Lingle decides to challenge Akaka. Lingle, who was term-limited, told the Star-Advertiser that she will “rest” for six months before making a final decision.

New York

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D)

Gillibrand cruised in her 2010 special election, beating Republican Joseph DioGuardi by 26 points in a cycle that largely favored the GOP in New York and across the nation. It’s hard to imagine she will struggle in more favorable conditions in 2012.

Local Republicans aren’t hopeful. They quietly acknowledge they will have a hard time convincing well-known members of the new Republican House majority to give up guaranteed influence for a shot at the Senate.

Their top pick would be Rep. Peter King, who is expected to assume the chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee. There are a host of second-tier candidates in the ranks of the Empire State’s county executives. Candidates such as Jay Townsend, who fell to Sen. Charles Schumer in 2010, could re-emerge.

Don’t expect a comeback from Carl Paladino, however. New York Republicans believe their 2010 gubernatorial candidate is too polarizing to win statewide office.


Likely Republican

Indiana

Sen. Dick Lugar (R)

Lugar, who will turn 80 in 2012, has committed to running again, and following former Republican Sen. Dan Coats’ resounding win over Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth, the early bet is that he would win. His office said its polling shows his favorable ratings in the high 60s, and he had nearly $2.4 million in cash on hand at the end of September.

A Lugar loss might be more likely in the primary than in the general election, as some Indiana Republicans see him as too close to President Barack Obama. Tea party groups have complained about his voting record on Supreme Court nominees and other issues, and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn admitted he wants to stave off intraparty challenges to Senators including Lugar.

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map of 2012 senate race ratings

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