As a result of which year Senate seats are up and several retirements, extremely few sitting Republican senators have anything to fear this November. There are only 10 Republican-held seats up this year; and because of retirement, only 7 incumbent Republicans are running in those seats. Of those seven incumbents, only two are considered to be in general election toss-up races by the Cook Political Report and Real Clear Politics: Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Dean Heller in Nevada. Dean Heller is not even a true incumbent since he was recently appointed to the seat. That means only 4% of the current Republican Senate caucus is seriously worried about their general election.
In fact, among the very few incumbent Senators running this year they collectively have almost as much to fear from primaries as they do from a general election challenge. In Indiana, Incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar is in real danger of potentially losing to a primary challenge from state treasurer Richard Mourdock. Similarly, Orrin Hatch has been very focused this year on trying not to be unseated in a primary challenge like Bob Bennett was in 2010. While it looks like Hatch may avoid that fate, it is only because he has been very focused on the campaign.
Only a few Republican senators have to worry about Democrats forcing them to make tough votes before the election or are worried about trying to appeal to swing voters. Most don’t need to worry about short term general election optics. The vast majority don’t need to be particularly concerned about defining popular opinion on pending issue.
Collectively, they may want to take actions that could improve the entire party’s image with swing voters in an attempt to help win the White House and pick up more seats, but individually they have little to worry about.
From a policy perspective this means Democrats have almost no ability to use the pending election to leverage these Senate Republicans into action on a popular proposal. Even if the Democrats managed to peel off the two or three vulnerable incumbents on a particular popular vote, they would still be well shy of the 60 votes to break a filibuster. Basically almost nothing the GOP doesn’t inherently like is going to get done.
Democrats are going to put forward a lot of popular sounding proposals between now and the election to try to draw a contrast between the parties, but Democrats know they have little leverage over the Senate Republicans. Democrats know almost everything at this points is going to be pure theater, so they are free to press popular ideas they don’t even have any intention of implementing.