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I'm not interested in discussing a wipeout in 2012.

Oh, I'm sure there's room for others to talk -- about Virginia, Montana, North Dakota, what have you. 2006 was a great cycle for us, which means 2012 was always going to be an uphill climb.

But seeing Washington now -- and watching the Republicans roll over us at every turn -- I'm not interested in sandbagging against the teabaggers. I'm interested in how, exactly, we can hit the Republicans, and hit them hard. No one had ever heard of Barack Obama in 2003, or Jim Webb in 2005, or Kay Hagan in 2007, or Chris Coons till O'Donnell gave us the race. We don't win by shoring up our weak points; we win by going on offensive early, and taking advantage of opportunities as they arise.

So my question arises: how and where do we fight back? What Republican seats give us the best prospects for pickups in 2012?

More under the fold.

Before we begin: it feels like the whole party, Congressional leadership down to netroots, have been choking on a wet blanket for a month now. We've been stumbling round, blind, deaf and dumb, punch-drink, taking hits from the Republicans not just because we don't have the numbers -- but because, as someone aptly said, we can't even wage an argument anymore because we don't BELIEVE that, when push comes to shove, Democratic principles will win out over Republican ones in the public discourse.

We need wins. Not just narrow saves but to take Republican seats -- and preferably not Brown's or Snowe's but Kyl's, or Hutchison's. Not just for mere bums on seats, but to show it can be done. To show that we deserve to win, not from scandal, tribal loyalties, or the mere tug of economic conditions, but because our ideas are better and our candidates are stronger. Even re-electing Obama won't be enough; whether you support Obama or Feingold or Dean or Clinton in a potential primary (and, coming from Australia, I KNOW that these things aren't set in stone anymore; Rudd had the job as long as he wanted it right up until the moment he lost it), you have to accept they'll need to storm the gates of DC from the moment they win -- this time.

So here we go, Republican seats ranked (in my rough approximation) from most to least likely to give us an opportunity in 2012. Today I handle the 'Top 5', the ones most likely to flip -- tomorrow (by Oz time), I'll handle the more intriguing further possibilities, the seats currently out of our reach with potential to be good races.

  1. MASSACHUSETTS

I know recent polling has sucked. And I know Scott Brown is a charismatic, talented candidate -- if the same guy, with the same hair and the same come-from-behind victory, came from South Dakota (well, he practically does), he'd be an all-but-certain White House candidate, and a shoo-in for re-election.

But he's from Massachusetts. Current polls don't mean a damn thing -- until we establish our candidates statewide, start fundraising, and start attacking Brown, who'll be running against a near-certain presidential landslide and, this time, a party desperate to take his scalp. It gets WORSE for him if the national environment stays red -- because if Nelson is gone, and Webb and Tester and McCaskill and Nelson are in trouble, then the national party will pour everything into Massachusetts to regain our losses.

So who do we run? The field isn't as strong as it looks: a lot of current and former Representatives, a lot of them ageing, and the standard dynasty picks. But it's still a good field: Capuano, Kennedy II, and even Elizabeth Warren. We can make a race of this.

  1. NEVADA:

In the wake of a Louisiana shellacking, we should never presume that ethical scandals alone will hand us a seat -- particularly where the scandal has gone so under-the-radar, and as unpublicised, as Ensign's follies. But Louisiana is not Nevada, and our Democratic bench here is, while not the strongest, a little less bare, with Rep. Shelley Berkley, Catherine Cortez Masto (NV A-G), and Kate Marshall (NV Treasurer) mooted as possible candidates.

I'll leave this one to people more familiar with the race than I -- but this one looks like a strong contender, at least at the moment. And with Reid's victory indicating the utter weakness of the GOP in the state -- and its discomfort with crazies -- a primary challenge to Ensign might mean that, if he were defeated, the seat would practically default to us -- especially if Angle makes another go of it.

  1. MAINE:

Olympia Snowe's Tea troubles have been well-chronicled elsewhere. What I'm more concerned about is how to run our best possible candidate in the event someone scores the upset -- if, that is, Snowe doesn't join our party first.

Wikipedia lists Rep. Mike Michaud as a potential candidate, along with A-G Janet Mills. I've also heard Eliot Cutler, the indy attorney who almost knocked off Paul LePage, mentioned as a potential candidate. None of the three would stand a chance against Snowe -- even if she moved to the right, or even in a Democratic primary. But if the Republicans chose anyone other than Snowe, or if she decided to retire, we NEED to be prepared for one hell of a race.

  1. INDIANA:

Similar to the above -- should Lugar retire, or be knocked off in the primary (he's so strong that anything less, even an 18-month pummelling in a dirty, vicious Tea Party primary, wouldn't finish him off), we need to be running our best possible candidates to take advantage of the community.

Brad Ellsworth would make a great candidate should he run again -- unfairly denied a promising future by Bayh's petulant slink off the field, and with a backstory and a political history well-suited to take out whatever smarmy backbencher decides the time is right to take on Lugar.

People were discussing running John Mellancamp last time -- why not someone out of the box? If Lugar wins then we get one hell of an entertaining race, in a cycle where we'll need some -- and if he loses, we may get an outstanding senator. I'm generally very hostile to running celebrities for public office -- chiefly because, as the last two years have shown, legislative skills are an essential aspect of the job, and I'd prefer you show me those over your great looks or melodic voice -- but it's Indiana; our bench is not strong.

  1. TENNESSEE:

A much tougher shot than Indiana, but there are seeds of promise here. Corker has made a strong showing in his first term, but it's a record of spurious honesty unlikely to impress the Tea Party; while Hank Williams, jr, promised two years ago to take on Corker, I'm very sceptical that will, in fact, eventuate. (Like I said, I'm not a fan of running celebrities for office, partly because they never show up.)

We don't have a very strong Tennessee bench, but there are a few possibilities. Gov. Phil Bredesen might make a strong contender -- regardless of the headaches he'd make after his election -- but he's unlikely to make the time and effort, after a fairly successful 8 years as Gov, to wage a vicious, underdog campaign to be the junior senator from Tennessee (with a significant chance of being in the minority) at the age of 69, when there's not all that much he disagrees with Corker on in the first place. Rep. Steve Cohen is a perennial liberal favourite but probably unelectable statewide.

The recently-departed TN Reps provide some fertile material, but there's very little to attract them against the prospect of merely running for their old seats. Rep. Lincoln Davis is said to be ambitious, but the same constraints as apply to Bredesen apply here. John Tanner and Bart Gordon seem to be genuinely retiring from public life, although either would be great candidates -- especially Gordon. If we're truly interested in 'more and better Dems', then setting up a 'Draft Bart Gordon' campaign, even at this early stage, might prove very fruitful later on.

That leaves current Rep. Jim Cooper. While not entirely platable to some Dems, he's run for the Senate before -- losing to Fred Thompson in 1994 -- he's ambitious, he's got a fairly safe district (allowing him time to flirt with running, as opposed to having to decide whether to run or not practically immediately), and he might be conservative enough to make a race of it.

None of these make the race an immediate barnburner -- but what I'm trying to show here is that we do have enough talent, and enough opportunities, to make 2012 something more than just a saga of steady retreat -- that, in fact, we can make up lost ground.

Next: Arizona, Mississippi, Texas, Utah, Wyoming -- seats currently out of reach, but with enough intriguing storylines to make them worth a closer look.

Originally posted to Black Mage on Mon Dec 06, 2010 at 01:43 PM PST.

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