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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.

In many states, downballot Democrats like Casey are expected to benefit from President Barack Obama’s place atop the ballot. But Pennsylvania, which features a substantial Democratic voter registration advantage, is not one of them — at least right now. Just 42 percent of Pennsylvania voters would have re-elected Obama if the election were held last week, according to a Public Policy Polling survey released Nov. 9.

The anti-abortion-rights Casey reported just $872,000 in his campaign account at the end of September, a number that might not be enough to scare off a Democratic primary challenger, never mind a Republican opponent.

No one has stepped forward yet, but potential candidates have expressed interest to the state GOP chairman. Those to watch include Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican just elected to his fourth term in Congress. Rep. Jim Gerlach has also demonstrated an interest in statewide office, and state Rep. Mike Turzai of the Pittsburgh area has been in the conversation as well.

Rhode Island

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D)

Whitehouse rode a Democratic wave to the Senate in 2006, ousting popular moderate GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee in a race that was largely decided by party affiliation.

Rhode Island voters may have shown some buyer’s remorse, putting Chafee into the governor’s office in 2010. And there’s reason to believe Whitehouse will have to work for another term, even in deep-blue Rhode Island.

His rants against the tea party from the Senate floor fired up the small but vocal Ocean State conservative base. He reported the moderate sum of $576,000 in his campaign account at the end of September, and his unfavorables have hovered around 50 percent for much of the last year.

Whitehouse’s saving grace, for now, is that Republicans will struggle to find a legitimate challenger in a state where Democrats control virtually the entire state Legislature, Congressional delegation and every statewide office.

State GOP Chairman Giovanni Cicione is seriously considering a run, but he’s the first to admit he is a weak candidate, having little personal wealth and having never held elected office.

Whitehouse’s biggest threat could come from term-limited Gov. Donald Carcieri, who will leave office in January 2011. He has deep pockets and better name identification than any other Republican in the state.

Other names to watch include Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung. Ultimately, Whitehouse should be fine, especially sharing a ballot with a president whose favorable rating is still in the mid-50s here.

Virginia

Sen. Jim Webb (D)

Webb is one of the biggest mystery candidates in a state that was trending toward the Democrats but that swung back in GOP favor in the most recent cycles. Webb won’t say whether he’s running for a second term. He had $471,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30 and even though he notoriously hates to campaign, Webb has been active in helping Democrats this year, doing at least one event with each member of the party’s delegation and helping raise money for them through his political action committee.

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map of 2012 senate race ratings

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