All eyes are focused now on November 2012. Will Republicans coalesce behind a principled conservative who can articulate the theme which resonated with voters in November 2010? Will new congressional districts, drawn by Republican state legislatures and reflecting a move away from Democrat parts of America into Flyover Country, lead to a bigger Republican majority in the House of Representatives? The Senate Class of 2012 will have 35 seats up for election. Twenty-three of those are held by Democrats; two are held by “independents” that caucus with Democrats; and only ten are held by Republicans. All of ten of those Republicans, except Scott Brown, come from Red or from very Red states – none, except perhaps Brown, has a chance of losing. Republicans, by contrast, stand to make big gains in the next two general elections.
But before any general election, there will be an off-year election in November 2011. One year ago, in November 2009, Republicans got the first taste of political victory since the 2006 debacle. Barack Obama, it appeared, did not have an unlimited mandate to govern. Stout Republicans gained governorships in New Jersey and Virginia. Republicans gained seats in the four state legislative chambers of those two states as well. In November 2011, Republicans will get some indication of how well they will do in the presidential election twelve months later.
Three gubernatorial races, all in the South, will highlight this off-year election. Bobby Jindal will stand for re-election in Louisiana as will Democrat Steve Beshear. Haley Barbour’s successor in Mississippi will be chosen as the term-limited governor. There may also be a special election in 2011 in West Virginia to fill the unexpired term of Senator-elect Manchin (and if Democrats lose that race, Manchin could in trouble seeking reelection to the Senate in 2012.)
The most interesting elections, though, may be in the ten state legislative chambers which will face voters in November 2011, which include both chambers of the state legislatures in Kentucky, Virginia, New Jersey, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Currently, Republicans only control two of these ten chambers: the Virginia House and the Kentucky Senate. In Louisiana, Republicans need gain only one seat to control the House and four seats to control the Senate. In Mississippi, Republicans would need twelve seats to control the House and two seats to control the Senate. With nine more seats, Republicans would control the Kentucky House and with three more seats Republicans would control the Virginia Senate. New Jersey Republicans are outnumbered in the lower house by 47 to 33 and in the upper house by 23 to 17. If Republicans managed to win most or all of the eight state legislative chambers currently controlled by Democrats that would be strong evidence of a “wave” victory.
If Republicans capture the Louisiana Legislature, then Mary Landrieu might have second thoughts about seeking reelection in 2012. If Republicans also win the Mississippi Legislature, Arkansas would be a Democrat island surrounding by strongly Republican states and Senator Pryor of Arkansas might also retire rather than face the fate of his fellow Senator Blanche Lincoln. Republicans, if they capture the Kentucky House and the governorship, would be able to pass Right to Work laws, joining contiguous states like Ohio and Indiana which, as I have suggested, should pass Right to Work as soon as possible.
Virginia state legislative elections will be indicators of just how vulnerable the two Democrat senators from that Red state are now. If the Republican Party is running Virginia, those senators might think twice about opposing repeal of Obamacare. Also, if the Republican victory in Virginia in 2009 and in 2010 were supported by triumph in 2011, then the whole Obama reelection strategy of peeling Virginia and North Carolina out of the traditional Republican presidential camp will look pretty frail. Every Senate Democrat from the South would also look like endangered species.
Perhaps the most interesting results, though, may be in very Blue New Jersey. Governor Christie is standing up stoutly to public employees’ unions and assorted big pigs at the public trough. If the 2011 state legislative elections vindicate him – and that would mean gaining seats in both houses – then the whole lean government message of Republicans will get a boost and the likelihood of Republicans winning a Senate seat in the next two election cycles or even carrying New Jersey in the 2012 presidential election will become serious possibilities.