The chance of changing of control in the U.S. Senate in '12 is getting slimmer for GOP hopefuls.
Among the Senate seats up for election in 2012, there are 21 Democrats, 10 Republicans and 2 Independents.
But an improving economy and significant uptick in President Obama’s popularity have transformed the political landscape to the point that Democrats believe they have a fighting chance of hanging on to power by a thread.
“We’re doing well considering where we started, having to protect 23 seats to 10 for the Republicans,” said Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. “There are more seats in play that we thought would not be in play, and almost all of those are seats that we can now win that we previously felt we could not win.”
One hopeful sign for Democrats is that they’re leading Republicans in fundraising, although the GOP is beginning to close the gap. The Democrats have raised a total of $52.3 million, compared to $50.5 million for the Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And political twists in a handful of states including Maine and Nebraska have greatly complicated the Republicans effort to take back the Senate.
“It definitely looks less bleak for the Democrats, but this is not over yet,” said Jennifer Duffy, an expert on Senate politics for The Cook Political Report. “And where they’ve gotten some traction, they haven’t gotten any guaranteed wins.”
Monday's action in Nebraska is another GOP setback.
The Nebraska Supreme Court on Monday rejected the state Republican Party's attempt to keep former Governor Bob Kerrey's name off the ballot, allowing him to run as a Democratic candidate for Senate and bolstering the Democrats' chances of keeping control of the chamber this election year.
The Republicans had challenged Kerrey's candidacy in the May 15 primary, saying he was not properly registered to vote in the state. Kerrey, who served as governor and was a senator from Nebraska, moved to New York City after leaving the Senate in 2001 to serve as university president of The New School.
He returned to Nebraska in February.
Kerrey's name recognition and fund-raising power is the Democrat's best hope of keeping the Nebraska Senate seat.
The seat is one Republicans hoped to pick up in the November 6 general election after Democratic Senator Ben Nelson announced he would not seek re-election.
Democrats control the Senate with a majority of 53 seats to 47. Republicans need a net gain of four seats to wrest control in the 100-seat chamber, and just three if a Republican wins the White House since the vice president could break a 50-50 tie. The Nebraska Supreme Court said state law gives it no authority to intervene on ballot questions within 55 days of an election. That deadline passed last week.
State Republicans had appealed a lower court ruling last week, which rejected the party's challenge that Kerrey was not properly registered to vote in Nebraska.
Paul Johnson, Kerrey's campaign manager, said that Nebraska Republican leaders sought "an activist court decision of the worst kind --- one that would have denied the right of voters to choose an elected official." "The time and taxpayer dollars they spent on these frivolous actions show how much they wanted to avoid that competition," he said. Mark Fahleson, state Republican Party chairman, said his initial reaction is not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. "Simply put, we now have a New Yorker running for Senate in Nebraska because of a technicality," he said. The Nebraska Republican Party said Kerrey falsely listed his sister's Omaha home as his legal address when he registered to vote February 28. He was a guest at the Omaha Hilton hotel that day.
The races to be watching: