As the 2012 election season heats up, OhMyGov takes a look at some of the key Senate races to keep an eye on over the next year. With thirty three seats up for grabs, the battle for control of the Upper House should be just as competitive as the one for the Oval Office. So join us as we focus on five key races, both in the polls and on social media, that could go a long way towards deciding the fight for the Senate.
Scott Brown (R) vs. Elizabeth Warren (D)
Few contests, outside that little one for the White House, will be as closely watched in 2012 as the Senate battle in Massachusetts. Scott Brown rose quickly to become a national name in early 2010 by winning a special election for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat, becoming the first Republican to represent the Bay State in the Senate in over 30 years. Warren is the former head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and helped orchestrate the controversial TARP bailout program of a few years ago.
Polls show the two in a statistical dead heat, with Brown holding a five-point lead in the most recent statewide poll which was taken in early October. On social media Brown remains one of the most popular GOP members of the Senate, ranking fourth among his Republican peers on Twitter and third on Facebook according to OhMyGov Media Monitoring. Warren has only a fraction of Brown's overall following, but in terms of momentum she is lapping her opponent. Since late October, Warren has picked up nearly 14,000 new Facebook fans bringing her overall following on the social network to over 75,000 fans. During that same period Brown, who has a quarter of a million fans himself, gained only 475 new fans. The growth gap on Twitter was less pronounced, but once again Warren outpaced Brown by about 650 followers, even as Brown tweeted about three times as often as Warren during that period.
Most see this race as one that will go right down to the wire, but if these numbers are any indication Warren has an energized base of support behind her that could prove to be enormously helpful against an incumbent who has been a nationwide household name since being elected.
Bill Nelson (D) vs. Connie Mack IV (R)
Bill Nelson, the ex-astronaut and two term Democratic incumbent, is going up against a challenger whose name is familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Florida GOP politics or baseball history in former Rep. Connie Mack IV. Polls show these two separated by only a handful of percentage points, and in a state as famously unpredictable as Florida there is no reason to believe this will not be as tight a race as we have seen in recent years.
While the race is competitive in the polls, Nelson is leading Mack by a wide margin in terms of overall social media popularity and recent online momentum. Nelson has twice as many Facebook fans as Mack, and over the past month has brought in about 600 new ones. Mack's total for that same period sits at less than 50. Things are not much brighter for Mack on Twitter, where he trails Nelson by over 17,000 followers and has gained only about 170 over the past month to Nelson's 600.
There is a long way to go until Election Day, and in a state with as many deeply conservative pockets as Florida a few ugly social media numbers probably won't completely cripple the Mack campaign. But when taking on a popular and well-known incumbent, strength and momentum are keys to success. Right now Mack has neither.
Claire McCaskill (D) vs. Sarah Steelman (R)
McCaskill won election by ousting incumbent Jim Talent in the Democratic "thumpin'" of 2006. Now six years later she finds herself in the fight of her political life with former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman. Recent polls show the candidates essentially tied in a state that famously likes its candidates plainspoken and populist. This is a seat Republicans feel they can absolutely take back in 2012, and Steelman's performance thus far is only confirming that notion.
When it comes to social media, McCaskill is one of the more popular and visible members of Congress especially on Twitter. Whereas McCaskill has nearly 61,000 followers on Twitter, Steelman has roughly 1,000. On Facebook the incumbent has over 10,000 fans. Steelman has around 1,700. Over the past month McCaskill has only strengthened her following, picking up around a thousand Twitter followers and over 100 Facebook fans. Steelman, meanwhile, actually outgained McCaskill on Facebook 185-104 but fell far behind her rival in picking up only 29 Twitter followers. Steelman has been the more aggressive tweeter of the two, outposting McCaskill by a greater than 3-to-1 margin during that period.
These numbers suggest that Steelman is certainly trying her hardest to make a run at McCaskill on social media, but that her efforts are yet to make much of a dent in the Senator's solid position. McCaskill has spent a large part of her first term building a national profile through Twitter; it will take more than a month's worth of tweets to reverse that trend in Steelman's favor.
Jon Tester (D) vs. Denny Rehberg (R)
Tester is another one of the "Class of 2006," Blue Dog Democrats who helped propel the party to huge gains in both the House and Senate. Next year he will be going up against Montana's lone man in the House in Rep. Denny Rehberg, someone who knows all too well the challenges of running for statewide office seeing as how he does it every two years. The two are in a statistical dead heat according to most polls.
Social media metrics confirm what the polls have been saying for months now, Tester should be scared of Rehberg. In fact he should probably be very scared. Rehberg boasts over 5,000 Twitter followers while Tester has around 1,800. Meanwhile he trails Tester on Facebook by only about 1,200 fans. Combine this with the fact that Rehberg has outgained Tester on both platforms over the past month, and we have what we call a "live challenger" on our hands. Montana is one of the most sparsely populated states in the nation, so the fact that Rehberg has brought 260 new Facebook fans on-board while Tester has gained less than 200 over the past month carries more weight than it would in other states. Meanwhile both candidates have Tweeted a comparable number of times over the last month.
This race is tight by every measure, both in the polls and on social media, and in a state that likes its Republicans conservative and its Democrats, well, conservative we could be in for a classic War of Attrition between the two candidates. Don't be surprised if we don't know the outcome of this race the morning after Election Day.
Ben Nelson (D) vs. Jon Bruning (R)
Nelson, the former two-term Governor and current two-term incumbent Senator, more or less is the Democratic political establishment in Nebraska. He has long elicited strong reactions from those both inside and outside his own party, and now is facing one of his toughest challenges yet in state Attorney General Jon Bruning.
Polls have Bruning with a lead over Nelson as it currently stands, but no one who has ever observed Nelson in a political fight is likely to write off his chances of overcoming the challenger. But if social media numbers are any indication, Nelson is in major trouble. Bruning currently has around 8,000 Twitter followers; Nelson has less than a thousand. On Facebook, Bruning has over 20,000 fans while Nelson has around 3,400. No incumbent should be trailing his opponent that badly in overall social media popularity, it is simply not acceptable. One bright spot for Nelson is recent momentum, where he has outpaced Bruning in picking fans and followers over the past month. But with gaps as wide as those Nelson is facing, one month of picking up 230 more fans than his opponent is not going to do the trick.
The election is over eleven months away, but if Nelson is not yet ready to move onto the K Street chapter of his career he would be advised to start making some moves on social media...and fast.
Polling graphics source: Real Clear Politics