I confess to a short happy dance when I heard Senator Ben Nelson was retiring. Like everyone else, I'm sick and tired of his obstruction, his Blue Doggy-ness, and the way he plays his hand at the end like a smug cheater. But Lawrence O'Donnell pointed this out: He still voted with Democrats 82% of the time. The good news about his retirement is that we won't have Ben Nelson to tear our hair out over anymore. The bad news is that his seat will likely flip to a Republican, and an ultra-conservative Republican at that. Nebraska, like Kansas, is chock-full of tea party types who will gladly have a candidate at hand to carry out their wishes.
As unbelievable as it sounds with the current craziness in Congress, Republicans could end up in the majority in the Senate, with Mitch McConnell taking over as Senate Majority Leader. They only need to win 4 seats and hold on to the ones they already have in order to do it.
Nate Silver predicts a 5-seat pickup for Republicans is possible, but he also has a caveat:
My impression is that people tend to under-appreciate the degree to which the outcomes in different Senate races are correlated. If the political environment is strong overall for the Democrats next November, they could win all or almost all of the competitive races. Conversely, they could lose all or almost all of them if the political winds are blowing in a Republican direction.
Because an unusually large number of Senate races are competitive this cycle, that yields a very wide range of potential outcomes. For instance, if Republicans were to win all of the races that I classify as “lean” or “toss-up,” they would win a net of 10 seats from Democrats — which would put them within striking distance of building a filibuster-proof majority, which would require a net gain of 13 seats. Win a few of the “likely Democrat” seats like Washington and Pennsylvania, and Republicans could actually achieve that goal.
Conversely, if Democrats were to win all of the “lean” and “toss-up” races, they would lose no seats at all. In fact, they could add to their 53-seat majority if they managed to salvage a seat like North Dakota or Nebraska (both of which I classify as “likely Republican”), or pull off a modest upset in Arizona, where Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican, is retiring and some polls have shown a competitive race.
Key states are Massachusetts, Nevada, Arizona, Nebraska and North Dakota in Silver's scenario. He has Massachusetts and Nevada as even odds for Democrats to win, but Nebraska and North Dakota are weighted toward the GOP.
Even if Democrats flip the House, losing the Senate would mean another slog through the filibuster rules (which surely would be modified to benefit Republicans) and a fight to the death simply to hold onto what we have, assuming President Obama is re-elected. If Democrats lose the White House and the Senate, I think you can guess where we'd go from there. A stacked Supreme Court, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, privatized Medicare and Social Security. There wouldn't be much of a backstop in those circumstances.
This is where the OWS message is so key. Without the populist message pushing for reforms and change at the most basic level, without a move toward correcting the inequality that exists right now, we're likely to end up with a bunch of tea party lunatics in the Senate. I hope we can sustain the energy the movement has generated so far and continue to push for a change in the Congress that includes re-electing progressive candidates and getting more of them elected for the first time.
For a little counterpoint, here's Ed Schultz, who is still doing a happy dance over Ben Nelson and believes we can win the Senate and the House back. From his lips to God's ears. And the voters'.