Senate Battleground Re-Booted

So now that George Will is saying that Republicans should forget about the White House and concentrate on willing Congress, what is the state of play in Senate elections this year, particularly given Olympia Snowe’s unexpected retirement?

At WaPo’s The Fix, Aaron Blake has a very useful summary of how the landscape has changed:

The GOP’s plans to regain a Senate majority looked good from the outset this election cycle, with the playing field for 2012 including just 10 Republican-held seats and 23 Democratic ones — including several in red states.

Considering the GOP needed to gain only four seats to win a majority, it was pretty clear early on that it was very doable.

From there, things only got better for the GOP, with the retirements of Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) opening up previously untargeted seats. In addition, embattled Republican Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) resigned, giving Republicans renewed hope to hold his seat. All of a sudden, the GOP had legitimate chances to win upward of a dozen Democratic-held seats, while really having to defend just one or two.

Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D-Neb.) retirement in late December was just the icing on the cake for a GOP whose hopes of winning the Senate looked to have improved over the course of the calendar year, even as the political environment shifted from a Republican-friendly one to more neutral.

But the pendulum has now swung back — at least a fair amount.

This week, Democrats nabbed arguably their best pickup opportunity in the country when Snowe unexpectedly announced her retirement. And they avoided Nebraska becoming a lost cause when Kerrey changed his mind and decided to run after all.

Much like Nebraska, in North Dakota, Conrad’s seat appears to be less and less of a lost cause for Democrats, with former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D) looking the part of a formidable opponent for freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R)….

What’s more, Snowe’s retirement and Elizabeth Warren‘s strong campaign in Massachusetts have given Democrats something they haven’t had all cycle — a couple of really strong pickup opportunities. And if Democrats can steal both of those seats, Republicans’ chances of taking the majority will be severely undercut.

And that’s without the possibility of Republicans having debilitating primaries in Indiana and Arizona.

No wonder George Will is asking GOPers to get focused on this stuff.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.