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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.

Minnesotans are still focused on 2010’s undecided gubernatorial race, but that’s no reason for Klobuchar to get comfortable. Elected over Republican then-Rep. Mark Kennedy in the open 2006 race, Klobuchar represents a state that in 2010 ousted longtime Rep. Jim Oberstar (D) in favor of little-known Republican Chip Cravaack and that has been known for its independent streak. Klobuchar had $1.3 million in the bank as of Sept. 30.

A number of Republicans are beginning to consider the race, including others who competed for the Republican gubernatorial nomination this year. That list includes former state House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, state Rep. Paul Kohls and state Sen. David Hann. Other Republicans may throw their hats in the ring, too, including former state Rep. Laura Brod, former state Rep. Brad Finstad, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, businesswoman Susan Marvin and business leader Charlie Weaver.

A couple of wild cards may determine the Republican nomination, however. If Gov. Tim Pawlenty decides to abandon the presidential race for a Senate bid, he would be the prohibitive favorite in the primary. And the state Legislature will be in flux, as everyone in both the House and the Senate will be forced to run following redistricting, so some state lawmakers may be motivated to consider bids for different offices.

Montana

Sen. Jon Tester (D)

Tester will be one of the most vulnerable Democrats in 2012. Insiders familiar with the state said Rep. Denny Rehberg (R), who just won a sixth term, would give Tester his greatest challenge.

As the state’s lone Congressman, Rehberg has run statewide every two years since 2000. He also challenged Sen. Max Baucus (D) in 1996, before being elected to the House. Republican businessman Steve Daines announced his candidacy last week, attempting to tie Tester to President Barack Obama and the new health care law. Republican national security expert Neil Livingstone, told Roll Call he also wants to run.

Tester entered the Senate in 2006 on a margin of fewer than 4,000 votes by targeting the ethical issues surrounding then-Sen. Conrad Burns (R). Republicans have listed this state as their top target for 2012. Tester had more than $500,000 in the bank at the end of September.

New Jersey

Sen. Bob Menendez (D)

Menendez will not serve another term as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a decision that allows him to focus on a re-election bid that could be more challenging than some might think.

Republicans are at a significant voter-registration disadvantage in the Garden State, but the largest voter group isn’t affiliated with either party. Should the anti-incumbent movement from this year persist, Menendez’s lifetime in public service could be a liability in 2012.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week suggests Menendez has cause for concern. Just 38 percent of New Jersey voters approve of his job performance, compared with 41 percent that disapprove, leaving more than 20 percent undecided. That should be encouraging news for the local GOP, which has yet to find a challenger.

People to watch include Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, 2006 Menendez opponent and current state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., and even former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, among others.

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map of 2012 senate race ratings

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