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Senate Up for Grabs

The Wall Street Journal has an extremely helpful guide to the Senate races, making the point that if — a big, if — pieces fall into place, the GOP could take back the Senate:

The emergence of competitive Republican candidates in Wisconsin, Washington and California—Democratic-leaning states where polls now show tight races—bring the number of seats that Republicans could seize from the Democrats to 11. …

Republicans would have to win virtually every competitive race to retake the Senate, without losing any seats of their own—clearly an uphill climb. The trouble for Democrats is that many trends are against them. Surveys show that Republicans are more motivated than Democrats to go to the polls, and that voters are looking for new leadership in Congress.

“I think there is definitely a chance” of losing the Senate, said Democratic strategist Gary Nordlinger, a Washington-based media consultant. “I wouldn’t call it a probability, but there is certainly a chance.”

Democrats have been surprised by strong GOP candidates in California and Wisconsin. As to the latter:

In the weeks before the Republican convention in late May, Ron Johnson, who hasn’t held political office, began appearing at tea party rallies. Tall and silver-haired, he proved a commanding speaker.

Mr. Johnson provided copies of his speeches to local talk radio hosts, and conservative host Charlie Sykes read excerpts over the air. Mr. Johnson jumped into the race six days before the convention, pledging to spend millions on the campaign. “He literally came out of nowhere,” said Brian Westrate, chairman of the Eau Claire County GOP.

Mr. Johnson built his successful company, which makes a specialty plastic for packaging, from the ground up, and it exports to various countries including China. But he also has made comments Democrats have seized on, such as asking in a March speech, “How is Social Security different from a giant Ponzi scheme?” Democrats are using that quote to suggest Mr. Johnson is radically anti-government. Mr. Johnson rejects the idea. “The problem is that Social Security funds have been spent,” he said in an interview. “They’re gone. I’m just describing the problem.”

If Democrats are going to run on a “What Social Security problem?” platform at a time when voters are increasingly serious and unwilling to accept political spin, they may be in more trouble than we imagined.

But the wild card may be Republicans’ own untested candidates (Rand Paul and Sharon Angle, for example). They will have to make sure they hold their own seats (Ohio is a tough race) and hope voters are finally immune to the kinds of tricks (George Bush! Abortion will be illegal!) that have gotten rather weak Democratic candidates through past races.

This year is different. The only question is whether it’s different enough to see a 10-seat swing in the Senate. I’d have said no way before Scott Brown, Chris Christie, and Bob McDonnell all won.



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