Rep. Shelley Berkleys Senate campaign in Nevada could be one of the keys to whether Democrats can maintain control of the chamber next year.
It is a little more than eight months until Election Day, but even now two Republican-held Senate seats look increasingly like the keys to whether Democrats can hold their narrow majority in November.
Republican strategists are overwhelmed with opportunities and potential opportunities this cycle, and even a modest breeze at the GOP’s back is likely to swing the Senate rather dramatically to it this fall.
But if the November elections take place during a relatively neutral partisan environment, or even one narrowly favoring the president’s party, Democrats may find that Republican-held seats in Massachusetts and Nevada determine whether Harry Reid remains the Senate Majority Leader in 2013.
With five Democratic seats at greatest risk — Nebraska, North Dakota, Missouri, Montana and Virginia — and another five definitely in play — New Mexico, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin and Hawaii — the 2012 Senate landscape is stacked in the Republicans’ favor.
Nobody doubts that the GOP will pick up some Democratic seats. The only question is how many. And with the Republican presidential nominee likely to carry at least four (and possibly as many as nine) of the 10 states that include Republican Senate opportunities, it is easy to see Democrats losing four or five of the seats that they are defending in November.
It would be wrong to call Massachusetts and Nevada the Democrats’ firewall, but those two states, one reliably Democratic and the other competitive, are important to Democratic strategists in their efforts to retain a Senate majority.
If Democrats can win those two contests against Republicans who didn’t earn their way to the Senate quite the same way as their colleagues did, they will make it that much more difficult for the GOP to net the four seats that the party will need if President Barack Obama wins a second term.
Massachusetts is surely the best opportunity for a Democratic takeover of a Republican seat.
First-term Sen. Scott Brown is good-looking, personable and politically astute. He separates himself just enough from his party to make a credible case of being “independent” without causing Republican voters and interest groups to see him as another Arlen Specter.
Face it, if charisma guaranteed re-election, Brown could start picking the colors he wanted to repaint his Senate office.
But the Republican was elected in a special election against a Democratic opponent who turned out to be so inept that she would have made the 1962 Mets look like the 1927 Yankees.
This time, Brown will be running against an icon of the left, Elizabeth Warren.
Republicans like to caricature Warren as a liberal Ivy League college professor, but even putting aside her stunningly impressive fundraising numbers, she has had a solid campaign launch.