The outlook for the 2012 Senate races.
Updated Tuesday, Nov. 6 2:55 pm ET
- Balance of Power
- Seats up for Election
Thirty-three U.S. Senate seats are up for election this year. Click on a seat below for details on the race.
Seat up for election
Jan. 2011 - Jan. 2013
Jan. 2013 - Jan. 2015
46 strong 4 leaning
43 strong 2 leaning
View seats by state
* Includes two independent senators who caucus with the Democrats — Sens. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
** Includes one independent senator expected to caucus with the Democrats — Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
Democrats currently hold a 53-47 majority in the U.S. Senate. They have 23 seats up for re-election in 2012, while Republicans have only 10.
To take back the majority, Republicans need to win a net of four seats -- or three if Mitt Romney is elected president, with Paul Ryan casting the tie-breaking vote as vice president.
Here are the descriptions of all 33 Senate races, along with ratings from the Cook Political Report, the Rothenberg Political Report and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
Race summaries by Adam Carlson
- Strong Democratic
- Leaning Democratic
- Leaning Republican
- Strong Republican
Last February, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) announced that he would not be seeking a fourth term in 2012. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who emerged from a bruising, expensive Republican primary in August, is facing Richard Carmona (D), a former surgeon general under President George W. Bush, in the general election. Flake holds a small lead in the polls but many voters are still undecided heading into Election Day. Flake has faced criticism for his past tenure as a lobbyist for Namibian mining interests with ties to the Iranian government. Carmona, who has been distancing himself from President Barack Obama, is relying on heavy Latino turnout and his centrist political profile to offset the Republican Party's registration advantage in the state. Both national party committees are investing heavily in this race that was not initially thought to be competitive.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has served in the Senate since 1992, is heavily favored to defeat her challenger, Autism activist and former congressional candidate Elizabeth Emken (R).
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced in 2011 that he would be retiring from the Senate, creating an open seat in the Nutmeg State. Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon (R), who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2010 despite spending $40 million of her own money, is again the Republican nominee in 2012, and has run a much stronger campaign this time. Her opponent, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), started off as the frontrunner after the primary despite his low name recognition, but the race tightened in August. Both campaigns have been launching prolonged negative ad offensives, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was unexpectedly been forced to intervene on Murphy's behalf. McMahon has been trying to distance herself from the national Republican Party and position herself as a job-creating moderate, but still goes into Election Day as the underdog.
Two-term Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is expected to soundly defeat challenger Kevin Wade (R) in November.
Despite middling job approval ratings, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is in a relatively strong position to win reelection. His opponent, Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.), was initially seen as a weak candidate due to his questionable past and lackluster fundraising, despite his family's fame in the state. Though polls pointed to a close race over the summer, Mack has fallen far behind Nelson in most polls since then. Several pro-Republican groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads GPS have aired ads attacking Nelson in an attempt to shrink his lead. However, time is running out and Nelson's lead may now be insurmountable.
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) announced he was stepping down in 2012, creating a rare open seat opportunity in the Aloha State. Though Republicans landed a strong recruit in former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), she remains the underdog in the general election against Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), especially with native son President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. However, Lingle narrowly defeated Hirono in the 2002 governor's race and has raised more money than her opponent this year. This race has been sparsely polled so far, but Hirono has led by varying margins. Throughout the campaign, Lingle has been highlighting her bipartisan credentials as governor — she even posted a picture of herself and President Obama on Facebook. Lingle must continue to campaign to the center to close the gap in this deeply Democratic state.
State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) handily defeated incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in the May Republican primary by running far to his right, turning a safe Republican seat into a potential Democratic pick-up opportunity. Mourdock has a known disdain for compromise, and previously questioned the constitutionality of Social Security and Medicare, which he has since distanced himself from. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), the Democratic nominee, has sought to paint Mourdock as too extreme for Indiana while touting his own centrist record. Mourdock, meanwhile, has been trying to tie Donnelly to President Barack Obama, citing his vote in favor of Obamacare. Though Mourdock started off as a modest favorite, he took a plunge in the polls after he suggested that pregnancies from rape are "something that God intended to happen." The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have both moved resources into the state in recent months.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), one of the most moderate Republican senators, abruptly announced her retirement in February. Angus King, an independent former governor who left office with high approval ratings in 2002, emerged as the early favorite to replace her. He has typically led his two opponents, Secretary of State Charlie Summers (R) and state Sen. Cynthia Dill (D), by double-digit margins in most recent polls. Though King has not revealed which party he would caucus with if elected, his views seem to be more in line with Democrats, especially on social issues. The DSCC has ignored Dill's request for an endorsement, fearing a split in the Democratic vote, which may allow Summers to eke out a victory. The National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled its advertising from the state in October.
King (I) +15.0
Freshman Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who defeated former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele in 2006, is strongly favored to beat former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino (R) in the general election this year. However, an Independent candidate named Rob Sobhani launched a $700,000 ad buy seemingly out of the blue in September, which raised some eyebrows in local Democratic circles.
In the marquee Senate race of the cycle, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who unexpectedly won Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat in a 2010 special election, is facing a much stronger candidate this time in Elizabeth Warren (D), a Harvard Law professor and special advisor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Polls have consistently shown a tight race, while President Obama has consistently led Mitt Romney by double digits, which speaks to Brown's popularity in the state. Brown has largely been campaigning as an independent with bipartisan credentials, while Warren describes herself as a champion for the middle class, highlighting her efforts to make Wall Street and big banks more accountable to consumers. The race had largely been positive until Warren launched an ad in September going directly after Brown for supporting tax cuts for millionaires. The gloves finally came off at the three Senate debates, including a renewed interest in Warren's Native American heritage, but Warren goes into Election Day as the slight favorite.
Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) started off his campaign against incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) by running a controversial statewide ad during the Super Bowl. It featured a giddy Chinese woman riding her bike through a rice paddy, speaking broken English and thanking Sen. "Debbie Spend-It-Now" for causing the United States to borrow more money from China. The ad was panned by Democrats, Republicans and Asian-American groups alike for being racially insensitive, and Hoekstra subsequently saw his poll numbers drop. Stabenow has routinely led Hoesktra by double-digits in the polls since September and is poised for a convincing victory. The NRSC and outside Republican groups have not shown any interest in investing in this race.