The New Republican Senate Opportunities

As the Mitt Romney wave sweeps through the country and gathers momentum, both inside and outside the swing states, a number of new Senate contests are opening new opportunities for Republican takeaways. In each of these races, the polling indicates that a Republican victory is possible where once it was unthinkable.

The foremost of these new contests is in Pennsylvania, where Republican nominee Tom Smith now leads Democratic incumbent Senator Bob Casey by two points in the latest Susquehanna Poll. Smith’s surge is animated by similar progress on the presidential level — various polls now show Romney in the lead in Pennsylvania. See our column on, “Pennsylvania is the New Ohio.”

Smith, a former coal miner turned coal mine owner, brings a blue collar Republicanism to this blue collar state. His appeal is spreading widely and quickly. Bob Casey, the Democratic incumbent, doesn’t know what hit him. Basking in his father’s name and image (Bob Casey Sr. was my client), he has been a relatively invisible Senator. Casey has a totally undeserved reputation as a moderate Democrat, derived from his inheritance of his father’s opposition to abortion. But Casey has loyally voted as Harry Reid and President Obama has instructed him on Obamacare, the stimulus and most other issues. Even his pro-life credentials are suspect and he gets no worse than a 50-50 rating from pro-choice groups.

And Pennsylvania is no Democratic state. In 2010, it replaced a Democratic Senator with Republican Pat Toomey, elected a Republican governor, had GOP majorities in both houses of its legislature and five new Republican Congressmen. The odds are it will add another new GOP House member this election.

In Rhode Island, too, there is a growing chance of a takeaway. Businessman Barry Hinckley has been steadily gaining on Democratic incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse and the latest polls have the race tightening with both candidates in the 40s. Whitehouse has been a very low profile Senator and Hinckley is waging a very aggressive and skilled campaign. Rhode Island not a solid Democratic enclave either. The very seat Hinckley is seeking was held by Lincoln Chaffee, a Republican, for decades.

The third seat unexpectedly in play is in New Jersey where former Republican legislative leader State Senator Joe Kyrillos is taking on incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez. Polls have shown Menendez under 50 percent of the vote and Kyrillos within striking distance. Many people have suggested that Menendez is the single most corrupt member of the United States Senate and rumors of impending indictments have dogged him for years. His key asset is the high cost of running in New Jersey and a dearth of well-funded adversaries.

But Kyrillos has raised close to five million dollars and is now advertising heavily on New Jersey television. He earns plaudits for shepherding Governor Chris Christie’s agenda through the Legislature and is attracting broad support.

These three possible upsets-in-the-making deserve your financial support.

Unfortunately, we may need some of these takeaways. The blabber-blunder of Missouri’s Todd Akin delivered a winnable seat back into Democratic hands. The new remarks by another Republican candidate have cast a new seat into doubt as well.

But Republican takeaways seem imminent in North Dakota, Nebraska and now Wisconsin (all open seats.) Incumbent Democratic Senators are facing strong and probably successful challenges in Pennsylvania (Tom Smith), Ohio (Josh Mandel) and Montana (Denny Rehberg). In Florida, Republican Congressman Connie Mack is nipping on the heels of Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and in Virginia, Republican George Allen is locked in a tie race with Democrat Tim Kaine for an open seat. Eight possible takeaways. Six likelies.

However, the GOP is likely to lose Maine and perhaps even Massachusetts. Even Indiana, where Dick Lugar was defeated in the primary by Richard Mourdock, is in doubt. If we do give away those three seats, we will still get control if we can bring in some of the takeaways listed above. With a net gain of only three seats, we will control the Senate 50-50 through Vice President Paul Ryan.

But we need more impressive GOP Senate gains to scare vulnerable Democrats into line behind the Romney agenda.

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