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Larry Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, has summarized his admittedly very early take on the status of the 33 senate seats that will be up for grabs in 2012 in this table.  Not surprisingly, of the 23 seats now held by Democrats, Claire McCaskill joins Ben Nelson (NE), Sherrod Brown (OH), and Independent Joe Lieberman (CT) as “very vulnerable” – the most troubling category since it denotes a shakier status than the “potentially vulnerable” or “vulnerable” status of many of the other Democratic incumbents.

Sabato has this to say about his early-on expectations for the coming Missouri race:

This will be a barn-burner of a contest. Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill narrowly edged out Republican Sen. Jim Talent in the Democratic tilting year of 2006. Since 2008, when President Obama came within a whisker of carrying the Show Me State, Missouri has moved back toward the Republican camp, at least temporarily. McCaskill will be opposed by either Talent, who gives every indication of desiring a rematch, or former state treasurer Sarah Steelman. McCaskill has been a visible, forceful senator but she may be too liberal for Missouri, unless President Obama recovers strongly prior to November 2012. In any event, McCaskill is quite vulnerable.

So, when McCaskill twists and turns in the coming months, just remember that she fears the conventional wisdom that sees her tepid centrism as “too liberal.”

The philosophical question here? Is it better to adhere to one’s principles and go down fighting, or dance in tune to the music they’re playing at the time? Doing the latter may keep the real barn-burners at bay (Talent, Steelman, or, God deliver us, Peter Kinder) – assuming that the fancy steps McCaskill will be called upon to execute are ultimately successful. And of course, there’s always the possibility that McCaskill and her coterie of advisors are too tone-deaf in the first place to pick-up on the right political beat – which could change really, really fast as people get a load of the clumsy bunch of GOPers they just sent to Washington.