I wish I had said this publicly in 2009 when it would have been rejected by far more people as preposterous: the Democrats could very well wind up with sixty or more seats in the U.S. Senate after the 2010 elections. And while I'm at it, I may as well go on the record with this prediction, too: there is no way that President Obama loses the 2012 election.
Everyone loves to repeat the conventional wisdom that the Democrats will lose this year either because the president's party almost always loses the first midterm elections or because so many Americans face hard times. But in order for Democrats to lose, someone has to win. The problem for the Republicans is that they are not running winners this year. The Republicans suffer from what I call the talent gap: they don't have the talent to win voters' confidence, even with purportedly high levels of dissatisfaction with incumbents.
The Republicans will definitely win some Senate seats currently held by Democrats. These are the Democratic-held seats most vulnerable to flipping, in order of probability of flipping:
That's a total of six seats. Of the six, North Dakota and Arkansas appear to be certain losses. Indiana is likely to go red, but Republican Dan Coats's recent past as a bank lobbyist won't help him win votes. Nevada looked like a loss for Harry Reid until the Republicans nominated crazy Teabagger Sharron Angle. Colorado has yet to hold its primaries, but the same outcome is looking likely there, too, now: Teabagger Ken Buck may defeat the Republican establishment's choice, Jane Norton. Delaware is unusual this year. The state has only one House district, held by Republican Mike Castle since the 1992 election. That means that Castle, despite being a Republican, has a history of winning statewide election in Delaware. But Delaware is a solidly blue state, and Biden will campaign hard to keep his former seat blue. (I don't consider California or Pennsylvania at all likely to flip, despite what other bloggers are saying.)
Now let's consider the states with chances of flipping from red to blue this year:
That is also a total of six seats. From Ohio to Maine, every open seat for the past decade or more has gone from red to blue, and some incumbents have even been defeated (Al D'Amato in New York, Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island, off the top of my head).* This is a long-term trend that I will discuss in greater detail another time. Suffice it to say for now that both states are highly competitive this year. In Ohio, the Republican nominee served as George W. Bush's director of the Office of Management and Budget from 2006 to 2007. I envy anyone who gets to run against Bush's former budget director. In Florida, Charlie Crist looks set both to win and to caucus with the Democrats: another case of a Republican sent into exile by the Teabaggers. Kentucky's Republican nominee, Rand Paul, is also too much of a Teabagger nut to win statewide election. In Missouri, the Democratic nominee is a Carnahan, part of the state's leading political dynasty. The seat in North Carolina is the famous cursed seat, which has changed hands in each of the last five elections, and the Democratic nominee is Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, thus someone with a history of winning statewide elections.
Realistically, I can see the Republicans picking up North Dakota, Arkansas, and Indiana, with any other state being a stretch. The Democrats, meanwhile, could realistically pick up all six states on my list. Could the next Senate wind up with 62 Democrats? If it does, you heard it here first.
*Update: Yes, I forgot about Scott Brown when I wrote this yesterday. If the Democrats run inferior candidates, as in Massachusetts this year, they should indeed expect to lose.