With Obama’s approval ratings at record lows and the 2012 electoral map favoring Senate Republicans, the president and Senate Democrats are, in many ways, on divergent paths. Vulnerable Democrats from red states see Obama as impeding their chances of winning reelection, while the president often seems aloof to their concerns.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) made news recently when, citing her “busy schedule,” she originally announced that she was not going to attend an event in her state where President Obama was speaking. While she has since backtracked, saying “Of course I’ll be seen with him,” expect to see many more recalcitrant Democratic Senators as the election nears.
Not surprisingly, the swing states where presidential elections are decided, also happen to be swing states in the Senate. This is a particular problem for Democrats this year when nine Democratically-held swing state senate seats are going up against only two Republican-held seats (Arizona and Nevada). The GOP needs to pick up three seats to get to 50. (Republicans will likely gain one seat from Kent Conrad in North Dakota while they currently look vulnerable only in Massachusetts.) That means that control of the Senate will rest on the ability of Democrats to win at least 6, if not all 9 of their 9 swing state seats.
Because President Obama will be spending a lot of time in the swing states, those 9 Democratic nominees all have a potential McCaskill problem. Luckily for the namesake herself, Missouri is likely a lost cause for the President. This year it is a swing state in name only. So the “Show Me” state’s senator will probably ultimately not have to deal for much longer with the president showing up in her state. But others will stay on the swing state short
For example, does Herb Kohl really want Obama’s help in Wisconsin, a Rust Belt state that has swung away from Democrats? What about Bob Casey in Pennsylvania? It’s almost inconceivable that Obama can win without holding on to those two states, but it’s almost as hard to believe that frequent presidential visits to both states won’t rub off on the Democrats’ incumbent senators. Bill Nelson in Florida is still popular, but for how long will he tolerate Obama’s millstone around his neck? And while Sherrod Brown is a “true believer” progressive, will he continue to adhere to his principle over his position as his numbers move down in tandem with Obama’s?
Others with a McCaskill problem include Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, and whomever the Democratic nominees are who will attempt to replace retiring Jeff Bingaman in New Mexico and Jim Webb in Virginia. Add this to the problems faced by Jon Tester, Ben Nelson, and Joe Manchin in Montana, Nebraska, and West Virginia–states where Obama is all-but certain to lose by large double-digit margins–and you can see why national Democrats might be inclined to accept that they will lose the Senate, but that they will have to put up a firewall around at least five or six vulnerable senators in order to ensure that they don’t lose the filibuster. And if that firewall includes throwing their president on the other side, expect them to do it.
QUESTION: Which Democratic Senate incumbent will be the first one to flirt with switching parties? My guess is Manchin, Tester, or one of the Nelsons.