Could Democrats Lose The Senate?

The decision by Beau Biden not to run for Senate brings to mind an historical parallel. With no Biden in the race, with no Ted Kaufman serving another term, the Democratic candidate is likely to be New Castle County executive Chris Coons. Back in 1972, no Democrat wanted to run against a popular Republican, so a young New Castle County Councilman with no money entered the race. His name: Joe Biden.Historical parallels might be all that Democrats have to hang onto. Rep. Mike Castle (R) is sufficiently popular statewide and has a fairly unimpeachable record of service in Washington. OK, so that's his one area of vulnerability in an anti-incumbent, anti-Washington year. But speaking of incumbency, it's incumbent upon the White House to make Coons a competitive candidate: Joe Biden needs to campaign harder for Coons that he would have for his own son.  I don't agree with the analysts who are moving Delaware to the "solid" Republican side -- though, all things being equal and time not passing for nine months -- this is a lean-Republican seat.

The other state the White House political operation owns is Illinois. There's a four-way Democratic primary which might soon turn nasty. Democratic strategists want the White House -- which, let's face it, owns Chicago -- to clean this mess up. The saving grace for Democrats in the state is that Republican Mark Kirk is beatable and will make mistakes -- unforced errors -- trying to position himself correctly.

In New York, Democrats aren't taking the primary challenge posed by Harold Ford to Kristen Gillibrand for granted -- nothing's being taken for granted after 1/18 -- but Ford's campaign so far sounds like a baby banging his hands on a piano. Not a single chord struck.

Republicans will win North Dakota. Harry Reid is losing against all of his B-tier challengers in Nevada. Arlen Specter looks like an old incumbent in Pennsylvania, and Pat Toomey, the Republican, is running a solid campaign. Republicans have a 10-way primary in Arkansas, and it's not smart to make predictions about a race until they can sort that one out. Coloradans are trying to figure out whether Andrew Romanoff can run a serious challenge to incumbent-selectee Michael Bennet, who is (a) disclosure: the brother of the editor of The Atlantic and (b) proving himself adept at his job and with fundraising. The polling you're seeing now is almost all environmental, except perhaps in Nevada -- and so, while it's probably accurate to assume that the GOP has an edge in these states, that edge is ephemeral. If the environment sucks this much in July or August, if Democrats tear each other up in primaries, then the edge will harden.

So -- realistically -- given that they're the party in power, how do Democrats run against themselves, essentially? Well, they don't. They play hardball. They point out that David Vitter, the incumbent in Louisiana, has cavorted with prostitutes. They exploit the Blunt family fatigue factor in Missouri. They very early -- as in now -- define their opponents: Rob Portman in Ohio is the architect of the Bush economic policies that got us into this mess and made the jobs go away. There's a bit of good news for Dems here: they've got money. Other potential bright spots for Democrats: New Hampshire, where Paul Hodes is outhustling Republicans and has been quick to seize opportunities to fill in his own profile. The party has a quality candidate in Robin Carnahan in Missouri.

If Mike Pence or Mitch Daniels decides to run for Senate in Indiana, I think Evan Bayh faces one of the tougher races of them all -- I think the prognosticators should focus on the box he's placed himself into ideologically. The guy hates liberals, but he can't out do Daniels for accomplishments, and Indianans know Daniels as a governor, not as a Bush budget guy. Pence's appeal to the entire state remains to be seen, but he'll have plenty of grassroots energy behind him, and he'll try to force Bayh to the left, which means that Bayh will try to steer to the right.

Democrats might lose the seats formerly occupied by Biden (DE), Obama (IL), Reid (NV), and they've lost the Kennedy seat. Beyond these nifty talking points, though, there's not much of a case to me made just yet that Republicans can win eight seats.