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Will 2012 Be a Republican Year?

March 12, 2012

Although most conservatives understand the important of defeating Obama, the next Congress has to be almost coequal in importance. ObamaCare, for example, cannot be repealed without control of the House of Representatives and not only control of the Senate, but enough senators to forestall a filibuster. Appointments to the federal bench, especially the Supreme Court, require Senate approval. Many of the reforms which conservatives see as vital to economic growth -- reform of the tax code, deregulation of environmental extremism, and changes to the entitlements systems -- will require congressional concurrence.

The structure of the Senate races in 2012 and also in 2014 favors Republicans. This is a consequence of the Democrats' big win six years ago in the 2006 election. Ten Republicans defend seats, and seven of those -- Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona -- have been strongly Republican in recent decades. How Republican? Each of those seven states has a Republican governor, two Republican senators, and Republicans control both houses of the state legislature.

Two states may be considered toss-ups: Nevada and Maine. Both states have Republican governors. Nevada has one senator of each party, and Maine has two Republican senators. The Nevada legislative chambers are split, but both houses of the Maine legislature are controlled by Republicans. The ethical imbroglio of John Ensign and the decision by Olympia Snowe not to seek re-election, however, put these seats in play. The only Republican Senate seat in jeopardy because the state is strongly Democrat is Massachusetts, but Scott Brown still runs surprisingly well in polls.

Democrat senators are retiring in North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, Wisconsin, and New Mexico. North Dakota and Nebraska are very red states, and Virginia is also a red state, though less emphatically. Republicans have strong candidates in Wisconsin, Virginia, and New Mexico. Connie Mack IV will run against a popular Florida Democrat, but Mack is a popular congressman and the son of a very popular former senator. Missouri was once a swing state, but now it is increasingly Republican, and Senator McCaskill will face a tough re-election battle. Democrats are defending Senate seats in Michigan and Ohio which today are only leaning Democrat. West Virginia is a very red state, which could put otherwise popular Joe Manchin in trouble. Hawaii, because of Linda Lingle's run, is a possible Republican pickup. Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and West Virginia could elect Republican senators if the election turns ugly for Democrats. This translates into an almost certain gain of a few seats and a possible gain of twelve seats.

There are also a few other seats which might swing in a strong Republican year. Senator Menendez in New Jersey won only 53% of the vote in 2006. Senator Cardin in Maryland won only 54% of the vote in that strong Democrat year. Senator Cantwell in Washington is saddled with a very unpopular state Democrat Party which, in a good Republican year, could drag her down. The Cook Report and Real Clear Politics differ somewhat, but if the "undecided" races break evenly, and if the "leans" races go as anticipated, both now show that the Senate will have a 50/50 split (which means that before Olympia Snowe decided to retire, both had a slight probability of outright Republican control).

What about the House? The outlook is better for Republicans. Look at the latest Gallup Poll. Superficially, this suggests that the voters are exactly evenly divided now, with 47% indicating a preference for Republicans and 47% indicating a preference for Democrats. Two items in the poll report present a much more optimistic picture for Republicans: (1) the poll is of "Registered Voters," which group has historically unstated Republican support, and (2) Republicans have been gaining and Democrats losing in each of the last three generic ballot polls by Gallup.

The Rasmussen Poll has shown since January of 2011 in its weekly congressional generic ballot that Republicans beat Democrats, except one week in which the poll was tied and one week in which Democrats held a one-point lead. This is telling because Rasmussen has been reporting this congressional ballot poll every Monday for years.

An indication of how Democrats actually view their prospects of retaking the House was revealed when Congressman Dicks of Washington State announced that he would not seek re-election after 36 years in Congress. The congressman is currently the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. If Democrats retook the House in November, Dicks would become one of the most powerful people in Washington. Would Dicks retire if he thought that Democrats would retake the House? Probably not.

There is another statistical fact of salient importance which Rasmussen reported last week: partisan identification of Democrats in February 2012, with 32.4% self-identified Democrats, is the lowest ever recorded. By way of comparison, in February 2011, right after the 2010 Republican landslide, 34.3% of Americans called themselves Democrats, and in February 2010, that number was 35.1%. This is complemented by a growing "enthusiasm gap" between the parties, which is much more meaningful if you compare today (Republicans have an 8-point enthusiasm advantage) with 2008 (Democrats had a 35-point enthusiasm advantage).

These polls taken cumulatively -- and Democrats grasp this -- suggest that with the right ticket and a strong presidential campaign, Democrats lose not only in Congress, but also in all those crucial other offices (Democrats are certain, for example, to lose governorships, perhaps as many as six). With a few victories in state legislative races, Republicans could control outright state government in thirty-one states.

It is easy to focus only on the presidential race, but there are a number of indicators that Democrats in every elective office may take a beating because of Obama. The year 2012 could set the backdrop for the biggest electoral victory for Republicans in the last hundred years.

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Copyright ©2012 Bruce Walker

Bruce Walker is a long-time conservative writer whose work is published regularly at popular conservative sites such as American Thinker.