The state of the Senate race

We’re coming down to the wire in the 2012 election, and being a presidential year most eyes are trained on the race to the finish between Mitt Romney and President Obama. But control of both chambers in the legislative branch are on the line as well, and as we all know, Congress can do a lot more (or a lot less) in terms of effecting change than the chief executive. Last night, The Ish took a look at the state of the House races and didn’t see much of a change on the horizon. That’s not terribly surprising, given how each state gerrymanders their districts. But the Senate runs on a harder to bump, state by state basis and has some potential volatility built in. Today we’ll take a quick look at what’s coming up there. (Don’t take this as “final predictions” which we’ll be doing closer to Tuesday.)

Of the 100 seats in the Senate, there are less than a dozen that we really need to bother looking at. The GOP is sitting on 42 which are either not up for reelection or so safe that it’s not worth discussing. The Democrats have 44 in those same categories. (And I’m sorry to say to my fellow New Yorkers, our seat in this mix is in that category. It’s just not on the table.) For the record, that Democrat number includes Sanders and Lieberman, who are technically independent, but caucus with the Dems. It also includes Angus King in Maine, who will almost without a doubt follow suit and may soon make some of you pine for the days of Olympia Snowe, who was successfully hounded out of the running.

Still technically in the “leaner” category, but quickly sailing over the event horizon of reasonable chances are three others:

Nebraska: This one should go to Deb Fischer, bringing the Republican “comfortable” total to 43, but we’ll pretend for now that Bob Kerry still has a chance.

Florida: I know people are still holding out hope for Connie Mack, but Bill Nelson holds varying leads in every poll you can find not conducted exclusively among people with the surname of Mack. But much like the presidential numbers, these shift on a daily basis. The Democrats could still take a beating up and down the ticket if the turnout is seriously large.

Pennsylvania: Tom Smith has run a great race, but even Rasmussen has him losing to Bob Casey, bringing the Donkey Party to a likely buffer of 46. This leaves us with a rather shockingly juicy group of eleven seats which may still be in contention, some more than others.

THE FINALISTS (In alphabetical order for lack of any other ranking)

Arizona: This one won’t be a blowout, but Jeff Flake is still up outside the margins in Rasmussen’s last numbers and he should sneak in over the finish line.

Connecticut: This is Linda McMahon’s second bite at the apple, but every late poll has Chris Murphy looking like he’ll send her packing in back to back tries.

Indiana: One of the media’s favorite races. I haven’t spoken to a single non-invested party who thinks this would even have been a race if Lugar was running, but Richard Mourdock managed to trip over his own shoelaces with the finish line in site and Ras has Joe Donnelly up by a slim margin in the final week. It could still go either way, though, and this one is definitely too close to call.

Massachusetts: The race most likely to start a flame war on any blog, Scott Brown became a GOP Rock Star of sorts when he seized a seat in Taxachusetts. But despite Elizabeth Warren’s best efforts to take herself out of the race repeatedly, Obama has some long coattails in the Kennedy’s home town and most polling outlets weren’t holding out much hope for Brown. But just this weekend we saw another shift, and incumbency always carries a certain advantage. Brown may still hold on to this one.

Missouri: Another odds on favorite to fan flame wars, Todd Akin managed to take one of the most likely GOP pickup seats and put it back in play. Rasmussen currently has Claire McCaskill up by nearly double digits, and not one other outlet shows a lead for Akin with three days to go.

Montana: I have no idea why I don’t see this race on the morning talk shows more often. Jon Tester is being challenged by Republican Denny Rehberg and there’s no use linking any single poll on the contest. Everyone has it as pretty much a fifty fifty shot. That’s a GOP pickup waiting to happen if you can turn out a couple hundred extra people in a few precincts.

Nevada: Much like Arizona, I’m not sure if this should be a toss-up race. Even NBC gives Dean Heller a pretty good shot at winning and the rest of the pollsters follow suit. He should deny Shelley Berkley’s bid unless something goes seriously amiss.

North Dakota: Republican Rick Berg should nail this one down pretty early on Tuesday night and send Heidi Heitkamp looking for other employment.

Ohio: Another high strung, tight wire act here. But the consensus of pollsters has Sherrod Brown leading Josh Mandel outside the margins. Sorry, sports fans, but Josh has some tough sledding to pull this one out.

Virginia: George Allen has overcome some early polling deficits and is now in a nail biter with Tim Kaine. It’s not a given by any means, but the momentum seems to be on Allen’s side coming into the home stretch.

Wisconsin: This is shaping up to be another incredibly close one, like most in Wisconsin. Tammy Baldwin (D) and Tommy Thompson (R) have been trading the lead back and forth for a while. This is another one that may just come down to coat tails.

All in all, there is the possibility of a wave in either direction with this many close races. But looking at the trends this week, it may turn out to be something of a split much like the House races. There’s really only three races where I would bet large on the Republicans right now and a couple where I’d wager on the Democrats. This doesn’t stack up like a high chance of the GOP retaking the Senate, but there’s plenty of reason to break out the popcorn on Tuesday.

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