Dems at risk in 8-9 Senate seats in 2010

For a few months, I have warned friends about getting their hopes too high for any significant gains in the Senate, although the GOP may score enough House seats in the midterms to wrest control away from Nancy Pelosi.  Charlie Cook’s analysis at National Journal comes as a surprise, however.  While he doesn’t think Republicans can win back control of the upper chamber, he puts eight to nine Democrat-held seats in play, amd predicts a substantial gain (via IBD):

The terms “gruesome” and “psychologically devastating” come to mind when thinking about the political developments over the last six weeks for Democrats.

Last week was a particularly bad one by any standard. In a matter of a few hours last Tuesday, Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter unexpectedly announced their decisions not to seek re-election, and Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry, the all-but-certain Democratic pick for governor, apparently decided his party’s nomination wasn’t worth having.

So this weekend’s news about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s relapse of foot-in-mouth disease was just a cruel ending to an awful week.

How awful?

The sum of the events is more damaging for Democrats than adding up each one individually. It’s the collective traumatic impact of these seven Democratic setbacks that causes the most damage, potentially moving other incumbents to decide to retire, undermining recruiting and chilling party fundraising, which until now has gone quite well.

The House isn’t yet at a tipping point. At this stage, a 20-30-seat loss for Democrats seems most likely. It would certainly be a major loss and more than the average for first-term, midterm elections, but short of the 40-seat loss that would shift control of the House. The Democratic cushion in the House is thinner than it was six weeks ago and nothing like it was six months ago. There are still 48 more state filing deadlines to go — Texas and Illinois have passed — and thus the possibility of new retirements and more potentially strong GOP challengers to come.

The Democrats’ 60-40 edge in the Senate — not counting the vice president’s ability to break ties — makes it almost impossible for that chamber to switch, but a four-to-six-seat Democratic loss seems most likely.

Losing six seats puts Harry Reid in a bad position when it comes to shoving his agenda through the Senate — assuming Reid is there to do it.  Cook lists North Dakota as the most at-risk seat after Byron Dorgan’s surprise retirement and John Hoeven’s entry into the race, but after that empty seat and two others in Illinois and Delaware — Biden’s old seat — Cook lists Reid as the most endangered incumbent.  In fact, now that Chris Dodd has backed out of the race in Connecticut, Reid’s seat is more at risk than the empty Dodd seat.

In contrast, the GOP has only four open seats, none of them in purple territory these days except perhaps New Hampshire.  Rep. Paul Hodes will vie for the seat, but given the popularity of Democratic Congressmen these days, he doesn’t have a strong shot at it.  In Missouri, Ohio, and Kentucky, Republicans should have no trouble fielding strong candidates, especially as Democrats struggle with an increasingly unpopular president and a radical-left agenda.

If Scott Brown wins in Massachusetts and the GOP ran the table, it would produce a 50/50 split — and that would be nothing short of a miracle.  A six-seat pickup looks better than anything we could have wished just a few weeks ago, though, and we have a long time until November.