Thursday, November 20, 2008

2010 Senate Playing Field Likely to Grow

By Nathan L. Gonzales

After losing at least a dozen Senate seats over the last two election cycles, Republicans start the 2010 cycle on the defensive once again.

Republicans, and incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), will defend at least 19 seats this upcoming cycle compared with the Democrats’ 15 seats. President-elect Barack Obama carried 19 of the 34 states where there are seats up in this Senate class.

But the 2010 Senate playing field will expand to include Delaware and could include many more depending on Cabinet appointments, resignations and Members’ health.

In 2008, Republicans started the cycle defending 21 seats to the Democrats’ 12. Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott’s (R) resignation and Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas’ (R) death brought two more GOP seats into the mix, for a total of 35 Senate seats up for election earlier this month.

Vice President-elect Joseph Biden (D) will soon resign his seat in Delaware, the Democratic governor will appoint his successor and a special election will be held in 2010 to fill the remainder of his term. That would bring the 2010 totals to 16 Democratic seats up and 35 seats up overall.

Obama already resigned his Illinois Senate seat, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) will choose his successor. But the president-elect’s seat was already scheduled to be up for re-election in 2010.

Obama may appoint Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) to be his secretary of State, and her New York Senate seat is not scheduled to be up until 2012. If she resigns, Gov. David Paterson (D) would appoint her successor and a special election would be held in 2010 to fill the remainder of her term. That would bring the Democrats’ total to 17 seats and an overall total of 36 seats.

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) is considering a run for governor in 2010 and may eventually resign her seat (which is not up until 2012) along the way. That would bump up the Republican defense to 20 seats, with 37 seats up overall.

Thirty-six Senate seats were up in 1950 and 1962. Democrats defended 23 seats in 1950 and suffered a net loss of five seats to the Republicans. In 1992, Democrats defended 21 seats and there was no net change.

In 1954, Democrats defended 22 of the 38 seats up for election and gained two seats.

And in 1962, a whopping 39 seats were up for election. Democrats were defending 21 of them and gained four.

That was the most Senate seats up in a cycle in the last 60 years, and if things play out, 2010 could equal or exceed that number.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R) trails Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) in the Alaska Senate race. But if Stevens were to win, he would likely be expelled, and a special election would immediately be held for the next two years. But another election would be held in 2010 for the remaining four years. So that’s another race that could be added to the 2010 docket. [Update- Stevens lost, so Begich will serve a full six-year term.]

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2010 and may resign her seat in order to run. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D) seat is already up in 2010. That could make 39 total seats up.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) was just re-elected easily but is mentioned as a potential secretary of State option. But if he gets the nod, that means Clinton didn’t get it, so it wouldn’t affect the math of the cycle. Fellow Bay State Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) is not up for re-election until 2012, but he was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year.

And in West Virginia, Sen. Robert Byrd (D) isn’t up again until 2012, but he turns 91 on Thursday and recently stepped down as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Any way you slice it, 2010 could be a very expensive cycle for the Senate campaign committees, with races in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and potentially two seats up in New York and California.

This item first appeared on on November 18, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.