2012 Senate Election Update 2/21/11 – Arizona and California

 Today we’ll kick off our look at the 2012 senate races with a look at Arizona and California.  We’ll add two states each day until we’ve covered all 33 of the races.  At that point we’ll put up stories on races as they change status or as news and polling updates come in.

Currently there are 33 races for the US Senate (subject only to change in the event of a death or immediate retirement).  Republicans are defending 10 seats, and democrats are defending 33. 

If the political climate is neutral (and this doesn’t happen during election seasons because politics “heat up”), we predict that the GOP would pick up seats based on the sheer number of seats the democrats are defending, as well as the current personalities involved in the races and local dynamics. 

If the political winds continue to shift to the right (as we see them right now), the republicans could pick up substantial numbers. 

If the winds shift left (as they did for Clinton in ’96) the democrats might avoid disaster, but not make many gains either.  The playing field (retirements, blue incumbants in red states, and number of states to defend) would blunt even a democrat wave.

We rate each election for the dems (democrats) or GOP (republicans) from “Safe” to “Likely” to “Lean”.  “Toss-up” means the race is too close to call.  Red signifies republican and blue signifies democrat.

To see some of our sources and how we arrive at our conclusions, go to the top of our site and click “methodology”.

Let’s take a look at the first two states (we’ll be going in alphabetical order by state)…

Arizona – Jon Kyl (retiring)

Status – Current Republican incumbant is retiring.

Rating – Likely Republican.

Republican incumbant Jon Kyl kept this seat in the “Safe Republican” column because he is popular in Arizona and led all of his potential challengers by a wide margin in early polling.  Recently Kyl, a strong conservative, announced he would not run for an easy re-election in 2012.

Republican congressman Jeff Flake has quickly jumped in and is the only announced candidate so far.  His record on fiscal, national defense, and social issues is strongly conservative.  He’s young, articulate, and has a strong electoral history.  He received some criticism from his base for supporting a guest worker program to ease illegal immigration, but his overall credibility with both his party and the grassroots remains strong.

The only reason the seat has shifted to “Likely” from “Safe” is because the incumbency advantage is gone, and the seat is now an open race.  Never the less, the seat may quickly bump back to “Safe” based on what other republicans in the race decide to do about opposing Flake in the primary.  In a wide list of probable candidates, Sheriff Joe Arpaio (a populist) would have a following amongst the law and order crowd and run as a republican.  We doubt he would get far, but he could hurt Flake’s chances in the general.  Also a potential is republican congressman J.D. Hayworth.  Hayworth (who is a champion of opposing illegal immigration) lost the 2010 primary against John McCain for senate, and (like Arpaio), would likely create a primary battle that would benefit democrats.

If the primary stays clear for Flake then the race will probably be “safe republican” regardless of what the democrats can muster.

The democrat side of the field looks weak as of this writing.  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wisely decided to sit this one out (her popularity has plummeted in her current position). 

One interesting pick is Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot at a rally and has bipartisan national support for her recovery.  Giffords also holds some conservative positions on issues important to conservatives and independents, and her recent tragedy would certainly garner extra sympathy votes her party might not get with another candidate.  However, at the current time Giffords isn’t even able to discharge the duties of her current office and talk of “using her” for a run right now might make democrats look like they’re playing a victim card for votes.  Republicans are wisely staying away from calling for a special election for Giffords’ current house seat, allowing themselves to maintain the moral high ground while the democrats continue to lose Giffords vote in the house.

California – Diane Feinstein

Status – Dem incumbant.

Rating – Safe Democrat.

Diane Feinstein, if she runs, will be safe in her re-election.  The best candidates in the GOP couldn’t beat Barbara Boxer, who is widely considered the weaker sister of the two California senators.  If Boxer (who puts her foot in her mouth as she did in an infamous exchange with a general during a hearing where she chided him for using “ma’am”, a widely recognized gesture of respect in the military and elsewhere) can win election, Feinstein will have no problems.

Feinstein is certainly a liberal in a blue/liberal state.  However, she has a reputation for fairness in committees and is acknowledged as being smart both in policy and in legislative tactics.  She is loved by her liberal base, but she is respected by her conservative opponents in the senate.

She has hinted that she will run, so we’re calling the race safe.  However, she’ll be pushing 80 at the time of the election, and no official announcement has been made.  If she retires, the seat would only shift to “likely democrat” as California is an uphill climb for republicans.  We would then re-evaluate the race as news and polls follow.

~~~

Seats evaluated to date:

Safe Dem   Likely Dem   Leans Dem   Toss-up   Leans GOP   Likely GOP   Safe GOP
CA                                                                                                               AZ

Tomorrow we’ll look at Connecticut and Delaware.

Best,

Stephen Nichols

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