Discuss as:

McConnell eyes Democrats up for re-election in 2012

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that he expects some Democrats –- wary that continued support for Democratic policies will cost them re-election in 2012 -- will "peel off" from their caucus to work with Republicans for the next two years.

“I think the most interesting thing to watch in the next Congress is how many Democrats start voting with us,” McConnell said.

“Every one of the 23 Democrats up [for re-election] in the next cycle has a clear understanding of what happened Tuesday,” he said. “I think we have major opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to support what we want to do.”

President Barack Obama will presumably be at the top of the ticket in 2012, making the dynamics of the next election difficult to predict. (A lot can change in two years -- just think of the difference between the 2008 Democratic pickups and the 2010 Republican ones.) But a quick look at the list of in-cycle Democrats indicates why McConnell is optimistic.

Several Democrats who will be up for re-election in two years already break with their party frequently. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has voted with Republicans about 32 percent of the time during this Congress, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has broken with her party on about 1 in 5 votes.

Other Democrats who hail from relatively conservative states might be eying Tuesday’s results with concern. Sen. John Tester, who’s up for re-election in 2012, represents red state Montana. And Senator-elect Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has to run again in two years for a full term, has already promised to take aim at Democratic policies -- literally.

And still others watched Democratic candidates from their home state go down in defeat on Tuesday. Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin will say goodbye to Badger State delegation colleague Russ Feingold; Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey and Florida’s Bill Nelson will be joined on the Hill in January by conservative Republicans instead of by fellow Dems; and Sen. Sherrod Brown witnessed the Democrat in Ohio’s Senate contest beaten by almost 20 points.

NBC's Ken Strickland contibuted to this report.