The year 2010 will be a time for politics in the Senate and House of Representatives – as if 2009 was not! The reason for this is simply that all 435 seats in the House and 36 seats in the Senate will be on the ballot.

The unfinished and controversial business of the Obama legislative agenda will have to be handled in the first two or three months of 2010, or it will probably be put off until after the election.

Health care reform has to be wrapped up fast, for example. Immigration reform has to be done quickly or it will probably slip again, unfortunately. Attempts to rein in “climate change” may run afoul of the Congressional clock, since passing bills that will raise energy prices are usually considered a bad idea in an election year. Perhaps the most important issue is the continuing problem with unemployment, which topped 10 percent before the end of 2009.

The voters will have their opportunity in November to express their pleasure – or displeasure – with these and other initiatives (and the direction of the country) under a White House, Senate and House controlled by Democrats; Democrats who have run an aggressive drive to enact a liberal, high-cost, high-tax agenda. If the voters aren’t happy, the results could be very interesting.

How big a midterm swing?

Republicans are hoping for a repeat of 1994, Bill Clinton’s first midterm election, in which they seized control of both the House and Senate. That seems unlikely, but it’s quite possible that the Democratic margin in the House – now a commanding 80 seats – could be whittled down to a range between 40 and 60.

In the Senate, the Democrats hold 58 seats and have two independents, who caucus with them, for a total of 60, the bare minimum needed to break a filibuster if the Republicans are united. If the Democrats lose just a few seats, they lose a large part of their control of the Senate.

Counting the seats in play

Political handicappers say that at least six Senate seats are in play to switch from Democratic to Republican control, four of them for political reasons: Bennet of Colorado; Dodd of Connecticut; Reid of Nevada and Specter of Pennsylvania. Two other Democratic seats are open due to retirement: Kaufman of Delaware and Burris of Illinois. The Republicans, meanwhile, have to worry about losing four seats due to retirement: Bunning of Kentucky, Bond of Missouri, Gregg of New Hampshire, and Voinovich of Ohio.

In the House, political experts suggest that around 14 Democratic-held seats are “in play” as opposed to only three Republican seats. And looming over the calculations is the fact that 49 Democrats represent districts carried by Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008. Clearly, many people split their tickets and can go either way in any election.

Independents will decide

After McCain’s loss, liberal analysts were fond of saying that the Republicans were becoming a regional party representing only the South. Then the Republicans won the race for governor in northern, heavily Democratic New Jersey as well as swing state Virginia. The key in both states was that political independents who had voted for Obama in 2008 switched to the GOP in 2009.

The bad news for the Democrats is that independents seem to be abandoning Obama in droves. According to a Rasmussen Reports poll, just over half (51%) of independent voters “strongly disapprove” of Obama’s job performance, while only 16% “strongly approve.” Obama will need to bounce back in the polls to give his party more support in the elections. If he doesn’t, and the Democrats lose ground in the House and Senate, his legislative agenda could be in trouble after only two years in office.