A Republican-Controlled Senate?

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Yes, Democrats beat back enough Republicans to maintain official control of the U.S. Senate. But Gerry Seib notes that if you take a closer look at who’s left in the chamber and what their incentives will be, Democrats hardly look to be in the driver’s seat:

Among the Senate Democrats, 23 will face re-election in just two years, and, having just witnessed the drubbing some in their party took at the polls, they likely will be even less willing now to toe the party line. Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who caucuses with Democrats, often leans rightward, anyway.

More important, among those 23 Democrats who face voters in 2012 are a handful of incumbents from the kind of moderate to conservative states where Democrats took a beating last week: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Jon Tester of Montana, Jim Webb of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Joe Manchin, who just won a Senate race in West Virginia by separating himself from President Barack Obama and his party’s congressional leaders, also faces voters again in two years because he was elected only to fill out an unexpired term.

Manchin hasn’t even been sworn in yet and the NRSC is already attacking him for “rubberstamping” Obama’s agenda. Jim Webb, meanwhile, isn’t even sure he wants to run again (although that could be better for Democrats, legislatively, than if Webb stays but tilts rightward in a survival bid). And keep an eye on Joe Lieberman, who has far less patience for diplomacy with Iran than Obama does.

The AP has more on the 2012 Senate forecast, which is mostly grim for the Democrats–but will be especially tricky for GOP freshman Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Brown has to defend his seat in the next election, and will be fighting off both ambitious Democrats and, perhaps, the Tea Partyers who helped send him to Washington in the first place.