2012 Could Be Worse Than 2010 for Democrats

Associated Press + More

WASHINGTON — Last week's election was bad for Democrats. The next one could be worse.

Senate Democrats running in 2012 will be trying to hold their jobs in states where Republicans just scored major congressional and gubernatorial victories — Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Virginia.

The Democrats' problems don't end with senators.

President Barack Obama carried those states in 2008, and he will need most of them to win re-election in two years. But this time they all will have Republican governors. These GOP governors can try to inhibit the president's policies and campaign operations. They also can help steer next year's once-a-decade House redistricting process in the GOP's favor.

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Moreover, Democrats must defend Senate seats in hotly contested Missouri, and in four states that Obama has little chance of winning, assuming he even tries: North Dakota, Nebraska, West Virginia and Montana.

"The 2012 Senate landscape shows a daunting picture for the Democrats," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the GOP's Senate campaign committee. "They're not only defending twice as many seats as Republicans, but a number of them are in states where the Obama-Reid agenda is deeply unpopular."

Harry Reid of Nevada is the Senate majority leader.

The 2012 Senate map is much kinder to Republicans, who must defend 10 seats to the Democrats' 23. Except for Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who will fight an uphill re-election battle in Massachusetts, the GOP probably will be favored to keep the Senate seats it now holds.

Of course, countless things can happen between now and the next election, and Democrats might do extremely well in 2012. Obama could bounce back from midterm setbacks just as President Bill Clinton did in 1996, when he easily won re-election after Democrats lost the House and Senate two years earlier. The slow economic recovery could quicken, with a rise in employment.

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Obama's spot at the top of the ticket also could help Democratic candidates spur turnout among liberals, minorities and young voters. But it might hurt candidates in states where Obama appears unpopular, such as West Virginia. Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin won a tough Senate race there last week to succeed the late Robert C. Byrd, but he must seek a full six-year term in 2012.

Democrats will try to win back some of the 60 House seats they lost to Republicans last week, but several factors will work against them. Republicans won gubernatorial and state legislative races in dozens of states. That will give them total or substantial control of the often partisan redrawing of House districts that will occur next year, following the latest U.S. Census. It's likely to result in several new GOP-leaning districts in states such as Texas at the expense of Democratic-leaning districts in the Rust Belt.

Democrats may find it especially hard to win back Southern seats lost last week by white Democrats, who are becoming almost extinct in much of the former Confederacy. And if Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains her party's House leader, Republicans will tell voters that Democrats did not learn their lesson from the 2010 election and need more convincing.

In the new Congress in January, Democrats will hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate. A mere handful of losses in the next election would put Republicans in control.

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Democratic spokesman Eric Schultz said it's too early to count anyone out. "Republican overconfidence ran deep this cycle, too," he said, "but we proved that strong candidates running aggressive campaigns can beat expectations."

Still, an early state-by-state look at 2012 races shows the magnitude of Democrats' challenges.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Sen. Bob Casey will seek a second term in a state that just elected Republicans to replace Democrats for governor, senator and five House seats. Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, 74, will run or retire in a state that just ousted his Democratic colleague, Sen. Russ Feingold, and switched the governor's office and both legislative chambers from Democratic control to Republican.