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GOP expands the Senate map, but Democrats ready to play offense

at 12:25 PM ET, 10/14/2011

New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer said this week that he thinks every Democratic incumbent running in 2012 will win reelection and that his party could actually pick off a seat or two from the GOP.

The first part of that statement seems a bit too optimistic though the second part could actually happen.

Recent events in Hawaii and Michigan show that Republicans are successfully expanding the Senate map in 2012, and now have a legitimate chance of winning a Democratic-held seats in at least 10 states.

Former governor Linda Lingle (R) got into the race in the Aloha State this week, giving Republicans their top recruit. Meanwhile in Michigan, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R) showed some fundraising prowess that we hadn’t seen from him before, pulling in $1 million in the third quarter.

Neither of those races have cracked our Senate Line just yet, but they do show the GOP expanding its potential paths to the majority.

Democrats, though, have had plenty of good news lately too. Their top two challenger candidates — Rep. Shelley Berkley in Nevada and former Obama adviser Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts — both outraised an incumbent two-to-one in the third quarter.

Warren’s $3.15 million raised was particularly astounding, and comes as polls show her closing the gap quickly on Sen. Scott Brown (R). And Berkley is already looking like she’ll be able to spend more money on her race than appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who raised a disappointing $675,000 between July 1 and Sept. 30.

The problem for Democrats is that those two races are where their pickup opportunities end. They haven’t come forward with top-tier candidates for an open seat in Arizona, and they need some help in the Indiana GOP primary (namely, a loss by Sen. Richard Lugar) if Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) is going to have a shot next fall.

Schumer, a past two term chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is right that it’s looking increasingly likely that Democrats could win a seat or two, and they may send back all their incumbents if it’s a good year — especially given some of the strong Democratic fundraising performances detailed below.

But the GOP still has good open-seat opportunities in lots of states: Hawaii, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Virginia, North Dakota and possibly Nebraska if Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) doesn’t run for reelection.

Perhaps most telling of all, our Line still includes eight Democratic seats and just two Republican ones. That means the GOP has the better map right now — by far.

To the Line!

10. Wisconsin (Democratic-controlled): The race for the seat held by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D) will likely be competitive no matter what, but this month was good to Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D). The liberal lawmaker raised $738,000 in the third quarter and has $1.53 million on hand — a nice pot of money to sit on during a bloody Republican primary. State House Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald just joined former congressman Mark Neumann and former governor Tommy Thompson on the GOP side. (Previous ranking: 10)

9. New Mexico (D) The primaries in the race for the seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) are still being sorted out. Ex-congresswoman Heather Wilson (R) and Rep. Martin Heinrich (D) remain the establishment favorites with the most money. But, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) just backed former Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, which could set up a tea party vs establishment dynamic that could make it tougher for Wilson. On the Democratic side, state Auditor Hector Balderas has given Heinrich a surprisingly strong challenge, although he hasn’t released his third quarter numbers yet. (Previous ranking: 9)

8. Ohio (D): It was another very good quarter for state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who outraised Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) $1.5 million to $1.25 million and is getting closer to equal financial footing with the incumbent. It’s certainly an impressive display from the 34-year-old Mandel, but we even Republicans acknowledge that their candidate remains untested in almost every other aspect of this sort of campaign. And, Brown’s economic populism is a nice for the mood of the electorate at the moment. (Previous ranking: 8)

7. Montana (D): Sen. Jon Tester (D) continues to vote like someone who is acutely aware of his potential political peril. This week he was one of just two Senate Democrats to vote against President Obama’s jobs bill. He also got some good news, though, with Rep. Denny Rehberg’s (R) fundraising appearing to slow down. Tester beat Rehberg $1.2 million to $700,000 in the third quarter; Tester has raised $1.2 million every quarter this year, while Rehberg has yet to crack $1 million. (Previous ranking: 6)

6. Massachusetts (Republican controlled): Give Warren this: she’s done everything right since announcing her candidacy against Sen. Scott Brown (R) in late August. Warren raised more than $3 million in an abbreviated third fundraising quarter and has effectively muscled Newton Mayor Setti Warren and activist Bob Massie from the race. Democrats delighted in the news that Brown’s website has borrowed a line from former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole , but the Republican remains an able and aggressive candidate with a $10 million war chest. That said, he will be running against a well-funded opponent in a presidential year in one of the most Democratic states in the country. That’s no easy task. (Previous ranking: 7)

5. Virginia (D): Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) has built a fundraising lead over former Sen. George Allen (R) in what is likely to be the marquee Senate race of the cycle. Kaine outraised Allen by $400,000 in the third quarter and ended September with $2.5 million in the bank, as compared to $1.8 million for Allen. Polling in the race continues to show it statistically tied, which is where the contest will almost certainly remain until Election Day 2012. Just a terrific race between two titans in Commonwealth politics. (Previous ranking: 4)

4. Nevada (R): We know sometimes we over-analyze fundraising numbers, but Heller’s third fundraising quarter seems to be a warning sign. Appointed to the Senate earlier this year, Heller pulled in just $675,000 for the three-month period — far below what he should be capable of. Berkley, on the other hand, raised a very solid $1.2 million. An incumbent (albeit an appointed one) getting outraised nearly two-to-one isn’t good. (Previous ranking: 5)

3. Missouri (D): Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) raised $1.2 million this quarter and continues to build a big financial advantage — especially in light of the fact that former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) raised less than $100,000 and had to loan her campaign $400,000 to even salvage a decent quarter. Rep. Todd Akin (R) hasn’t released his fundraising yet but needs a solid number to challenge the perception that the GOP field here is weak. Still, McCaskill is very vulnerable, and wealthy Republican businessman John Brunner could shake up the GOP race after entering it last month. Or so Republicans hope. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Nebraska (D): The retirement talk is going to perk up for Nelson after he raised just $443,000 in the third quarter — less than half what he raised in each of the first and second quarters. At the same time, Nelson is already appearing in ads in the state, which would seem odd for someone ready to retire. If he does retire, the GOP will be (even more) heavily favored. Attorney General Jon Bruning is still the GOP frontrunner, after state Sen. Deb Fischer raised only $230,000 in her first quarter of active fundraising. Bruning, meanwhile, rebounded a bit from a poor second quarter and pulled in a respectable-but-not-great $580,000. (Previous ranking: 2 )

1. North Dakota (D): Democrats insist publicly and privately that Rep. Rick Berg (R) is a weak candidate. (And they even have a poll that says so!) But, if he’s so weak, why hasn’t a big-name Democrat stepped forward to run in this open seat? (Previous ranking: 1)

Chris Cillizza and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

 
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