2012 U.S. Senate races could determine the presidency

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Rarely do down-ticket races determine the outcome at the top of the ticket. The 2012 elections could turn this axiom on its head.

A quick glimpse at the projected 2012 presidential scorecard indicates that Republicans have an uphill battle if they want to win the White House, and much hinges on their ability to score victories in a handful of battleground states.

If the eventual Republican presidential nominee can’t deliver victories in Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Nevada, the race is essentially over before it begins.

Luckily for the GOP, these and other projected 2012 battleground states are also hosting contested races for the U.S. Senate. If the Republican Party can field strong candidates who can win these Senate races, it might be enough to propel the eventual GOP presidential nominee to victory.

A couple of recent developments indicate that we’re not the only ones thinking along these lines.

In Virginia, the Obama administration is taking a strong interest in pushing former Virginia Democratic Governor Tim Kaine into the 2012 Senate race, to replace the retiring Jim Webb. The Obama folks realize that if a popular statewide ticket-mate is crisscrossing this battleground state spreading the party platform, it makes the president’s job of repeating his Virginia win that much easier. The Obama folks quietly tested the “reverse coattails” strategy in 2008 by linking Obama with then-Senate candidate Mark Warner in rural Virginia.

At the national level, Democrats are pouring an inordinate amount of resources into Majority PAC, a new entity whose stated purpose is to keep Democrats in control of the Senate. While Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie of American Crossroads fame may appreciate the flattery implied in this move, most political prognosticators, such as Charlie Cook, would call this a futile effort — that it’s a done deal that Republicans will control the Senate following the 2012 elections. However, if Majority PAC ends up focusing its efforts in these key battleground states, this could be money well spent to bolster President Obama’s bid to remain in the Oval Office.

As Gallup notes, the 2012 presidential election will be a referendum on President Obama, more so than a center ice face-off between two candidates (unless the Republicans nominate a particularly polarizing candidate). So keep an eye on who Republicans select to represent the party in the battleground states’ Senate races, because it could very well determine which party wins the White House.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are co-founders of CivicForumPAC and advisors to conservative candidates on Internet outreach, communications and campaign strategy.