Lame Duck Sets Table For 2012 Senate Races
As attention turns to the 112th Congress -- and the 2012 cycle -- the political ramifications of the sprint to close the 111th Congress are becoming clear. Several members of the 111th Congress may find themselves in competitive Senate races in 2012 and an analysis of their voting decisions during the lame duck session offers a few clues about what is in store for some of 2012's marquee contests.
The debate over Pres. Obama's compromise on the extension of the Bush tax cuts, a central focus of the session, shed some light on the 2012 Nevada Senate race. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is one of the few Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2012 thought to be vulnerable, and he may find himself being challenged by formidable opponents from both parties.
Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley (D), a possible Ensign challenger, was an ardent and vocal supporter of the tax cut compromise, splitting with many of her colleagues in the Democratic caucus. While Berkley denied that a possible Senate run was part of her calculus, her decision to stake out ground in the middle cannot be ignored, especially considering her liberal voting record. Making inroads with moderates would be necessity for Berkley in a statewide contest and while it is too early to say what her political future holds, her votes early in the 112th Congress are certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Meanwhile, Ensign voted against the tax cut compromise while Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who may challenge Ensign in the Republican primary, supported the measure. The divergence may emerge point of contention, should the two find themselves in a primary battle.
Earmarks may also become an issue in a potential primary. While both Ensign and Heller opposed the now defunct omnibus spending bill, Ensign's request of $85 million in earmarks contrasts with Heller, who requested none.