There is danger to Democrats in basing their victories upon winning seats in Red States. There is little reason to believe that North Carolina, Georgia, Alaska - states that have or may elect Democrats to the Senate - and Louisiana, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, Arkansas and other states that reelected Democrats have suddenly embraced the sort of radical ideology that Obama promises to bring.
Democrats had a remarkable confluence of factors in 2008: a very unpopular president ending his second term, a Republican nominee who refused to attack the gaping holes in Obama's armor and who seemed to dislike his own base more than the other party, a jolting financial crisis which affected every election (Conservatives in Canada would have won a majority in Parliament without the financial crisis), an historic Democrat candidate with deft political skills, and a media so house trained that it could not find an Obama scandal if it was wrapped in fish paper and left on its doorstep.
This allowed Obama to win states that he should never have won in normal times, like North Carolina, Indiana, and Nevada. More importantly, it allowed Democrats to win in states in which only conservative Democrats ought to have been able to win. If these Democrats act as a real and open check on Obama's agenda, then they can parlay the combined advantages of incumbency and being a member of the majority party into reelection. But if they become lemmings of the Left, then their political half life may be short.
The two prior presidential elections give a very good idea of just how America splits in normal times. About half of America, including about thirty states, breaks conservative and the other half of America, including about twenty states, break Democrat. Using this very crude measurement, that translates into about fifty-six to fifty-eight conservative senators and about forty-four to forty-two Leftist senators.
That may overstate natural Democrat strength. Senator Smith in Oregon lost re-election by a tiny percentage of the votes. Oregon in 2000 came very close to going for Bush. Senator Coleman in Minnesota will win or lose by even tinier margins. Minnesota also came very close to going for Bush in 2000. Senator Sununu in New Hampshire beat Governor Sheehan last time and President Bush carried New Hampshire in 2000. Even in 2008, Republicans made big gains in the lower house of the New Hampshire legislature, even as Obama carried the state and Senator Sununu lost re-election.
Conservatives have a built in advantage in the Senate simply because the number of states which are conservative outnumber the number of states which are liberal. In 2000, Bush received fewer popular votes than Gore but he carried thirty of the fifty states. In 2004, Bush had a narrow majority in the popular vote and Electoral College, but a landslide in the number of states he carried (a whopping sixty-two percent of the states of the union.) Bush last time came within 10,000 votes of carrying thirty-three states, or sixty-six percent of the states. In 2008, John McCain carried twenty-two states or forty-four percent of all the states.
Democrats today hold a big majority in the Senate because of all the senators from states that have nearly always gone Republican. Senators from those states are particularly vulnerable if they stray too far to the Left. John Edwards did not run for re-election in North Carolina because he would have lost, and his fellow North Carolinians voted against the Kerry-Edwards ticket in the 2004 election by a wide margin. Tom Daschle was voted out of office, even though he was Majority Leader of the Senate, because his political ideology was too far to the Left. Harry Reid is facing low approval ratings in generally conservative Nevada.
If the political winds change, say, back to the climate of 2000 or 2004, Democrats could lose 24 Senate seats in the next six year cycle. If an Obama Presidency turned sour as quickly as the Johnson Presidency did after the 1964 elections or the Clinton Presidency in the 1994 elections, then those Senate losses could come must quicker and must faster. Barack Obama would then be in the perilous political position of having defined control of the White House as responsibility for everything, and then controlling the White House after the 2010 elections (but controlling precious little else.)
Carter, in the 1976 election cycle, defined the "Misery Index," and then had to live with his own definition four years later. Democrats are at a fundamental disadvantage in Senate races; Democrats contend in House districts which are not grossly gerrymandered to elect Democrats; Democrats gained almost nothing in state legislative races; and Obama is riding the same illusory and silly popularity that Carter had before he took office. Be careful what you wish for...you might get it.