Not all the candidates are in yet. And we're a very long way from November 2012. But I think it is a good time to make a first run at projecting what could happen in 15 months in the US Senate.
There are 23 Democrat/Independent and 10 GOP seats up for grabs. The current makeup of the Senate is 51-D/47-R/2-I. Let's do the easy part first. Let's look at the very safe seats on either side first.
GOP: Wicker (MS), Corker (TN), TEXAS (Hutchison is Retiring), UTAH (either Hatch or some other GOP), Barrasso (WY).
DEM: Feinstein (CA), Carper (DE), Cardin (MD), Gillibrand (NY), Whitehouse (RI), Sanders-I (VT), Cantwell (WA - ONLY BECAUSE NO GOOD GOP CANDIDATE HAS COME OUT)
The count after these seats is now: 36-D/42-R/1-I
At this point we have some potential change overs. I will list the seats likely to go to one party or another with the change overs in bold.
GOP: ARIZONA (Kyl is retiring but likely to go GOP anyway), Lugar (IN), Snowe (ME), NORTH DAKOTA (Conrad is retiring).
DEM: CONNECTICUT (with Leiberman retiring, this is likely going DEM, but this could change dramatically after both the Dem and GOP primaries), Stabenow (MI - this seat is vulnerable if a good GOP candidate comes out of the primary), Klobuchar (MN), Casey (PA - this could change very quickly depending on the GOP primary and the strength of the Red Tide).
Again, being very early in the races, several of these could change dramatically, including Connecticut, which has a few very strong GOP candidates in the primaries, and Maine, which is a very blue state and may not like what Snowe is doing.
The count now stands at: 40-D/46-R/1-I.
The following are the battleground Senate races. As you can see by the current count, if things projected above hold out, the GOP would need 5 of the following seats to take the Senate.
Florida - Nelson (D) - presently leans democrat but there are two or three very good GOP candidates in the primary.
Hawaii - Akaka (D) is retiring - Hawaii is a very blue state, but with former GOP governor Dingle running for this seat, it leans Democrat, but could easily go GOP.
Massachusetts - Brown (R) - Massachusetts being the blue state that it is, this could easily go Dem. If Heller stays GOP, that's a wash on the part of the predictions. But don't count Brown out. Despite angering many Tea Partiers for voting against TP wishes, he's still very popular in Massachusetts.
Missouri - McCaskill (D) - She is entrenched and can't be counted out. But she is extremely vulnerable, especially against Steelman or Akin.
Montana - Tester (D) - Denny Rehnberg will give Tester a serious problem, especially in an otherwise Red state.
Nebraska - Nelson (D) - the Cornhusker Kickback and conservative Nebraska could very easily throw Nelson out on his ear. The only reason this is still a toss-up and not already in the GOP column is the fact that there are so many GOP candidates vying to face Nelson.
New Jersey - Menendez (D) - a very blue state that gave us GOP Rep, John Runyan in 2010, could hop on Christie's back and send Menendez packing.
New Mexico - Bingaman (D) is retiring - if Bingaman had stayed in the race, this one could still have gone GOP. With Bingaman out, the chances are even greater the GOP could take this seat.
Nevada - Heller (R) - only his predecessor's sex scandal can possibly keep Heller from keeping his newly acquired seat.
Ohio - Brown (D) - Ohio is always a toss-up state and this year is no different. Though the Red Tide is pushing through Ohio too. Mandel could raise lots of money and unseat the vulnerable Brown.
Virginia - Webb (D) is retiring - this will be an interesting race. Former DNC Chair, Tim Kaine, will be running against Ex-Sen. George Allen. The deciding factor may be the heavy GOP tide from 2010.
Wisconsin - Kohl (D) is retiring - This, too, is a very interesting race. Ron Kind, former Dem. Rep, will be facing a GOP challenge which could be former Gov. Tommy Thompson (if he decides to run). That could be a good race.
West Virginia - Manchin (D) - West Virginia is still a blue state. But Obama's actions against the coal industry could cause problems for Manchin, especially if John Raese enters the race for the GOP.
Of the two GOP seats in this list, Heller is the safest. Of the eleven Democrat every one of them is in play...for reasons listed next them.
Pre-Season Prediction for the Final Senate Totals: GOP - 54 / DEM - 45 / Ind - 1
I honestly think that the numbers, depending up what happens in the next 15 months could move in either direction. We could be looking at something like 59 - 40 - 1, or we could be looking at 51 - 48 - 1. It will depend upon the state of the economy by then and the degree to which one party or the other can get their message across.