U.S. Senate 2012 Election

3. Sabato: 6 Democratic Senate Seats ‘Toss-ups’ in 2012

After losing Senate seats in 2010, Democrats likely face more of the same in next year’s elections, according to political pundit Larry Sabato — who says six seats now held by Democrats will be up for grabs in 2012.

Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, acknowledges on his Crystal Ball website that it is “premature to issue hard projections” at this point, noting that “a thousand things will change along the way to November 2012.” But he is willing to issue what he calls “descriptive short-term forecasts” for the Senate races.

Next year 23 Democratic seats will be up for election, as will 10 Republican seats. The six Democratic seats Sabato rates as “toss-ups” are held by Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), and Jim Webb (Va.). He also rates the seat held by Republican John Ensign of Nevada as a toss-up.

Bingaman, Webb, and Ensign are retiring.

Three other Democratic incumbents are stepping down. The seat now held by Kent Conrad of North Dakota is very likely to go a Republican, Sabato says, while Democrats will probably hold on to the seats being vacated by Daniel Akaka of Hawaii and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent Democrat.

Two other Republicans are also retiring, but odds favor the GOP retaining the seats now held by Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona.

“With six Democratic toss-ups to just one Republican toss-up, the GOP can obviously win the Senate in theory — but it is far too soon to say whether theory will become reality,” Sabato observes.

He also forecasts that Florida Democrat Bill Nelson will be “vulnerable” in 2012, with a host of Republicans being cited as potential opponents.

“Without question, Florida Republicans would rather have former Gov. Jeb Bush as their nominee,” Sabato adds, “but there are no signs that he is interested in the seat or a 2012 presidential run — as some national Republicans would like to see.”

In governorships, he predicts that Republicans will increase their lead by up to three in the 2011 and 2012 elections.