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Is The Senate The Republicans' To Lose? Fourteen Months Out, a Tentative "Yes"

A Commentary by Larry J. Sabato and Kyle Kondik

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The recent decision by ex-Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) not to seek the seat of his retiring colleague, Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, was a big moment for Republicans because it gave them yet another clean shot at a Democratic-held Senate seat. Feingold, still popular despite his reelection loss last year, would have been a favored quasi-incumbent had he run. Instead, his decision is just another piece of miserable news for Democrats in this cycle's race for the Senate.

Remember, there are 23 Democratic-held Senate seats up for grabs this year, versus only 10 Republican-held seats. Realistically, only two of those 10 Republicans seats will be competitive next year: Nevada, a purple state where appointed Republican Sen. Dean Heller faces a tough challenge from Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley; and Massachusetts, a deep Blue state where Republican Sen. Scott Brown will try to hold on against an as-yet unknown Democratic challenger. Both Republicans are vulnerable, but favored.

Meanwhile, Republicans have plenty of chances to gain the four seats they need to guarantee them control of the Senate next year. We break down their pickup chances in Chart 1.

Put another way, of 23 Democratic-held seats, almost three-quarters of them (17 of 23, or 74%) are at least potentially competitive. So even if they lose the presidency, Republicans only need to win fewer than a quarter of these seats (four) to get to the magic number of 51 -- enough to make Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) majority leader provided they don't lose any of their own seats. And remember: Republicans need to net only three seats if they win the presidency next year, because a Republican vice president would break a 50-50 tie in their favor.

Chart 1: Democratic-held Senate seats, ranked by likelihood of Republican takeover

Sabato 090111

It is worth noting that except for some bad candidate decisions in 2010, the GOP would be sitting pretty with a near-certain Senate takeover on the horizon for 2012. Republicans very likely would have had a seat or two more, and perhaps an outright 50-50 split in the Senate right now, if they hadn't nominated Tea Party candidates in Colorado, Delaware and Nevada last year.

This is a warning to the GOP for 2012, although the base might not be in a mood to listen. Republican Senate primary winners, if too far to the right, could hurt the party across the map this year. For example, Wisconsin and New Mexico are places where moderates who could perform well in a general election -- ex-Rep Heather Wilson (NM) and ex-Gov. Tommy Thompson (WI) -- might get knocked off in a primary by less electable contenders.

From the perspective of Labor Day 2011, the GOP has a strong chance to win the Senate next year. Indeed, given the volume of ripe pickup opportunities, it appears that the Senate is the Republicans' to lose. But with some bad decisions by GOP primary voters, and a revival of Democratic fortunes in 2012 if the economy takes a significant upturn, they could still forfeit this opportunity.

Full descriptions of each Senate race follow Chart 2, which has our listing of the races, candidates and ratings for 2012's battle for the Senate.

Chart 2: Full Senate ratings and candidate breakdowns

State

Incumbent

Possible Primary Challengers

Major Party Opposition

Party Rating

AZ

Jon Kyl
(Retiring)

- Rep. Jeff Flake
- Businessman Doug McKee
- Businessman Wil Cardon

- Ex-AZ Dem Chairman Don Bivens
-Ex-U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona?
- Businessman David Crowe

Likely R

CA

Dianne Feinstein
(Running)

 

- Ex-Insurance Comm. Steve Poizner?

Safe D

CT

Joe Lieberman
(Retiring)

- Rep. Chris Murphy
- Ex-Sec. of State Susan Bysiewicz
- State Rep. William Tong

- 2010 Sen. Nominee Linda McMahon?
- Ex-Rep. Chris Shays
- Former U.S. Comptroller Gen. David Walker?
- Atty Brian Hill
- Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy

Likely D

DE

Tom Carper
(Running)

 

 

Safe D

FL

Bill Nelson
(Running)

 

- Ex-Sen. George LeMieux
- Ex-FL House Maj. Leader Adam Hasner
- Rep. Vern Buchanan?
- 2010 Gov. candidate Mike McCalister
- Former Ruth's Chris Steakhouse CEO Craig Miller
- Businessman Ron Rushing
-Consultant Nick Loeb?
- Catholic blogger Marielena Montesino de Stuart

Leans D

HI

Daniel Akaka
(Retiring)

- Rep. Mazie Hirono
- Ex-Rep. Ed Case

- Ex-Gov. Linda Lingle?

Leans D

IN

Richard Lugar
(Running)

- Treasurer Richard Mourdock
- State Sen. Mike Delph?

- Rep. Joe Donnelly

Likely R

MA

Scott Brown
(Running)

 

- State Rep. Thomas Conroy
- Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren?
- 2009 Sen. candidate Alan Khazei
- Newton Mayor Setti Warren
- Activist Robert Massie
- Immigration Atty Marisa DeFranco
- Engineer Herb Robinson

Leans R

MD

Ben Cardin
(Running)

 

- Ex-Secret Service agent Daniel Bongino

Safe D

ME

Olympia Snowe
(Running)

- Tea Party activist Andrew Ian Dodge
- 2006 ME-2 nominee Scott D'Amboise

- 2010 Gov. Candidate Rosa Scarcelli?
- State Rep. Jon Hinck?
- Businessman Donato Tramuto?

Likely R

MI

Debbie Stabenow
(Running)

 

- Ex-Rep. Pete Hoekstra
- Ex-Judge Randy Hekman
- American Family Association MI president Gary Glenn
- Businessman Peter Konetchy
- Cornerstone Schools co-founder Clark Durant
- Activist Chad Dewey

Likely D

MN

Amy Klobuchar
(Running)

 

- Ex-State Rep. Dan Severson
- St. Bonifacius city Councilman Joe Arwood
- Ex-state Rep. Phil Krinkie?

Likely D

MO

Claire McCaskill
(Running)

 

- Ex-Treasurer Sarah Steelman
- Rep. Todd Akin
- Businessman John Brunner?

Toss up

MS

Roger Wicker
(Running)

 

 

Safe R

MT

Jon Tester
(Running)

 

- Rep. Denny Rehberg

Toss up

ND

Kent Conrad
(Retiring)

- Ex-state Rep. Pam Gulleson?

- Rep. Rick Berg
- Ex-Naval officer Duane Sand

Likely R

NE

Ben Nelson
(Running)

 

- AG Jon Bruning
- Treasurer Don Stenberg
- 2008 Sen. Candidate Pat Flynn
- State Sen. Deb Fischer
- Air Force vet Spencer Zimmerman

Toss up

NJ

Bob Menendez
(Running)

 

- State Sen. Joe Kyrillos
- 2006 nominee/state Senate Min. Leader Tom Kean?
- State Sen. Mike Doherty?
- Atty Ian Linker

Leans D

NM

Jeff Bingaman
(Retiring)

- Rep. Martin Heinrich
- Aud. Hector Balderas
- Activist Andres Valdez

- Ex-Rep. Heather Wilson
- LG John Sanchez
- Businessman Bill English
- 2008 NM-02 Candidate Greg Sowards

Toss up

NV

Dean Heller
(Running)

 

- Rep. Shelley Berkley

Leans R

NY

Kirsten Gillibrand
(Running)

 

- Nassau Co. Comp. George Maragos

Safe D

OH

Sherrod Brown
(Running)

 

- Treasurer Josh Mandel
- Ex-State Sen. Kevin Coughlin

Leans D

PA

Bob Casey
(Running)

 

- Businessman Keith Loiselle?
-Businessman Steve Welch?
- 2010 PA-12 nominee Tim Burns?
- Ex-Santorum aide Marc Scaringi
- Tea Party activist Laureen Cummings
- Former coal company owner Tom Smith

Likely D

RI

Sheldon Whitehouse
(Running)

 

- Businessman Barry Hinckley

Safe D

TN

Bob Corker
(Running)

 

 

Safe R

TX

Kay Bailey Hutchison
(Retiring)

- LG David Dewhurst
- Ex-TX Solicitor General Ted Cruz
- Ex-Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert
- RR Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones
- Sports analyst Craig James?

- Ret. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez

Safe R

UT

Orrin Hatch
(Running)

- State Sen. Dan Liljenquist?

- Rep. Jim Matheson?

Safe R

VA

Jim Webb
(Retiring)

- Ex-Gov. Tim Kaine
- Marine veteran Courtney Lynch

- Ex-Sen. George Allen
- Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke
- Atty David McCormick
- Bishop Earl Jackson
- Horizons Television Inc. exec. dir. Tim Donner

Toss up

VT

Bernie Sanders
(Running)

 

- Auditor Tom Salmon?

Safe D/I

WA

Maria Cantwell
(Running)

 

- 2009 King Co. exec. candidate Susan Hutchison?
- Ex-Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel?

Safe D

WI

Herb Kohl
(Retiring)

- U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin
- U.S. Rep. Ron Kind?
- Ex-Rep Steve Kagen?

- Ex-Gov. Tommy Thompson?
- Ex-Rep. Mark Neumann
-State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald
- State Sen. Frank Lasee?

Toss up

WV

Joe Manchin
(Running)

 

- Rep. Shelley Moore Capito?
- 2010 Sen. Nominee John Raese?

Leans D

WY

John Barrasso
(Running)

 

 

Safe R

ARIZONA : In the race to replace the retiring Republican Jon Kyl, Rep. Jeff Flake is the strong favorite. We do not expect the strongest potential Democrat, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to enter this contest. Her recovery from an assassination attempt has been inspiring, but at this point it seems unlikely to the vanishing point that she would be able to run a statewide race; a bid for reelection to the House is more likely. The other potential Democratic candidates are not big names; an increasingly improbable Obama tidal wave could lift one of them, but Democrats are longshots in the Grand Canyon State. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

CALIFORNIA : Sen. Dianne Feinstein is in a good position: The state GOP is in shambles after Republicans Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, despite massive spending, respectively ran disappointing races for governor and senator last year. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

CONNECTICUT : In the 2010 GOP primary, free-spending professional wrestling magnate Linda McMahon dispatched a GOP moderate, ex-Rep. Rob Simmons, before losing to now-Sen. Richard Blumenthal in the general election. It's looking increasingly likely she will try to repeat the former feat, while preferring to avoid the latter failure, in 2012: The Republican nomination will likely come down to her and ex-Rep. Christopher Shays, another moderate Republican who won't have McMahon's financial resources. Whoever wins the GOP primary will be an underdog to replace independent Sen. Joe Lieberman against the eventual Democratic nominee, who is likely to be Rep. Chris Murphy. Murphy will try to avoid a primary upset by ex-Sec. of State Susan Bysiewicz or state Rep. William Tong. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

DELAWARE : Sen. Tom Carper is a heavy favorite for reelection. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

FLORIDA : Polling continues to show Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in decent shape for reelection next year, despite both the Sunshine State's status as a presidential swing state and a spirited primary developing on the Republican side. Leading the GOP primary field are ex-state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner and former appointed Sen. George LeMieux. Mike Haridopolos, the state Senate president, recently ended his bid, and the person who actually polled the best against Nelson in a recent Sachs/Mason-Dixon survey -- lightning rod Rep. Allen West -- also will not run. Rumors persist that someone else will enter the field; perhaps that person will be Rep. Vern Buchanan, whose personal wealth could help fuel his bid. Whoever the Republican nominee turns out to be, he will need help at the top of the ticket in the form of a strong showing by the GOP presidential standard-bearer. That is possible, and Nelson -- while formidable -- is not an absolute lock for another term in the volatile Sunshine State. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

HAWAII : The winner of a Democratic primary between Rep. Mazie Hirono and ex-Rep. Ed Case will be the favorite in this race. However, ex-Gov. Linda Lingle is looking more and more likely to run on the Republican side, and any money the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has to spend in President Obama's home state is money that can't be used elsewhere. Establishment Hawaii Democrats want Hirono to be the nominee; Case, who ran an unsuccessful primary campaign against retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka in 2006, has been a thorn in the side of the party establishment. Revenge rematches could abound in this race: Hirono beat Case in a primary for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002, and then Lingle beat Hirono in the general election to win her first term as governor. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

INDIANA : The Club for Growth, a major player in Republican primary politics, released a poll in late July showing Treasurer Richard Mourdock leading longtime Sen. Richard Lugar by two points in the race for the Republican nomination, although another poll showed Lugar up 14. Lugar is working hard to win another term and doing well in fundraising. Notably, the Club for Growth has not endorsed Mourdock (or anyone) in this race even though club president Chris Chocola (an ex-IN congressman) has criticized Lugar. Complicating matters for Mourdock is the possible entry of state Sen. Mike Delph into the race, which could split the anti-Lugar vote. Waiting for the eventual Republican nominee is Rep. Joe Donnelly, who is in this race in no small part because his Second Congressional District was made more Republican in redistricting. Donnelly, who is rooting for a primary upset of Lugar, will be the underdog to any eventual Republican nominee. Indiana, an unlikely Blue Obama state in 2008, will most likely be reverting to its regular Red in 2012. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

MASSACHUSETTS : Democrats have yet to coalesce around a challenger to Sen. Scott Brown, the upset Republican replacement for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren appears likely to enter the crowded Democratic primary after President Obama passed over her for an appointment to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington. Warren is beloved by consumer-focused liberals but she has never before run for office, so we have no idea if she will be a good candidate or not. As of now, it appears that none of the members of Massachusetts' congressional delegation will enter the race, although Rep. Michael Capuano, who lost to Attorney General Martha Coakley in the special election primary in late 2009, has not yet officially ruled out a run. Brown, who by necessity is staking out a place for himself as a moderate Republican in Washington, remains a favorite for reelection. LEANS REPUBLICAN

MARYLAND : Sen. Ben Cardin should have an easy path to a second term. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

MAINE : While Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) would appear to be a strong Tea Party primary target, her challengers have not gotten much traction. If Snowe is the nominee, Democrats have little chance to win this Blue state seat. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

MICHIGAN : After initially ruling himself out, ex-Rep. Pete Hoekstra changed his mind and is now running for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Hoekstra is the strongest candidate on the Republican side, but charter school founder Clark Durant recently rained on Hoekstra's parade by announcing endorsements from top Wolverine State Republicans: ex-state party chairs Saul Anuzis and Betsy DeVos as well as ex-Sen. Spence Abraham. Gov. Rick Snyder, who defeated Hoekstra in last year's primary for governor, has endorsed Hoekstra. The fact that Hoekstra, who is not known as a strong fundraiser, lost a primary last year indicates that he might not be the savior Michigan Republicans desire, but Stabenow's path to reelection, which as of our last update looked like a breeze, is at least a bit bumpier now. It is possible that favorite-son Mitt Romney could help the whole GOP ticket in Michigan if he is the party's presidential nominee. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

MINNESOTA : Sen. Amy Klobuchar has a solid approval rating and has not drawn a strong challenger. Ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who recently exited the presidential race, could have been that strong challenger, but he has declined to enter the contest. Taking down the popular Klobuchar will be an exceptionally tough test for the eventual Republican nominee. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

MISSOURI : The state of play in the Show Me State's critical Senate race has not changed much over the past few months. Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill has a difficult campaign ahead of her, especially because President Obama will be on the top of ticket next fall in a state he is quite unlikely to win. Meanwhile, none of the Republican contenders to challenge her -- Rep. Todd Akin, ex-Treasurer Sarah Steelman and businessman John Brunner -- has stepped forward as the leader in the party primary. This is and will be a close race, and Democrats really need to hang on here to keep their Senate majority. TOSS-UP

MISSISSIPPI : There's no indication that Republican Sen. Roger Wicker faces any significant obstacles in his bid for his first full term. SAFE REPUBLICAN

MONTANA : In this race between two incumbent lawmakers, voters will have a distinct choice on at least one issue: incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester voted "yes" on the deal to raise the debt ceiling; meanwhile, his likely Republican challenger, Rep. Denny Rehberg, voted "no." If one were to rank the Democratic-held seats in order from most to least likely to change hands next year, this one would be the third most likely to flip, behind the next two states on this list (ND and NE). In the sunnier days of 2006, Democrats toasted the rugged Tester as a new kind of Democratic candidate when he upset Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, helping Democrats win a 51-49 majority in the Senate. He needs to be that same kind of candidate in a tougher climate in 2012; otherwise, he could help close the book on Harry Reid's time as Senate majority leader after helping open it in 2006. TOSS-UP

NORTH DAKOTA : North Dakota Democrats, sensing that this Senate seat is going to be turning Red next year, have appealed to the retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad to reconsider his retirement. Conrad respectfully reaffirmed his decision. Freshman Republican Rep. Rick Berg is likely to replace Conrad in the Senate, giving Republicans an easy pickup. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

NEBRASKA : Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson is the most endangered Senate incumbent in the nation, although he could benefit from what is expected to be a competitive and nasty Republican primary among frontrunning Attorney General Jon Bruning and top challengers, Treasurer Don Stenberg and state Sen. Deb Fischer. Bruning recently found himself in hot water for comparing welfare recipients to raccoons who feed on beetles. Nelson, for his part, is tacking to the right and talking about deficits and debt -- and doing his best to distinguish himself from President Obama. One potential silver lining for Nelson: congressional redistricting did not substantially change Nebraska's Second Congressional District, whose single electoral vote went to Obama in 2008. Obama's campaign might make a play for that electoral vote again, which would provide some indirect organizational assistance to Nelson in what should be his friendliest portion of the state. A Nelson win might be an indication on election night that Republicans had fumbled away their chance to win the Senate. This race remains a TOSS-UP , although right now, that might be too generous of a rating for the incumbent.

NEW JERSEY : Despite lousy job approval numbers, Sen. Bob Menendez remains a favorite for reelection, especially if Republicans nominate a presidential candidate unlikely to do well in the Garden State. New Jersey Republicans seem to realize this. A recent report indicated that state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, an ally of Gov. Chris Christie, might not follow through with a run against Menendez if Rick Perry, a staunch southern conservative, was the GOP presidential nominee. But no matter who the nominee is, this race will be tough sledding for the GOP. Republicans usually look better in early polling than they fare on Election Day in the Garden State. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

NEVADA : Rep. Shelley Berkley, the likely Democratic challenger to appointed Republican Sen. Dean Heller, got a break recently when Byron Georgiou, a wealthy businessman, decided not to challenge her in next year's primary. Berkley should have a clear road to the nomination and the full support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's political machine, which is formidable. Just like in Montana, the Democrat in this race (Berkley) voted "yes" on the debt ceiling deal, while the Republican (Heller) voted no. Heller, thanks to his incumbency, is a slight favorite in this race, but Nevada -- not Massachusetts -- may be the best opportunity for Democrats to win a Republican-held seat next year. LEANS REPUBLICAN

NEW MEXICO : Spirited primaries are likely on both sides of this battle to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman. The favorites are ex-Rep. Heather Wilson on the Republican side and current Rep. Martin Heinrich on the Democratic side, but they face challenges from, respectively, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and Auditor Hector Balderas. (Businessman Greg Sowards might play a role in the GOP race as well). In the Democratic race, Heinrich received AFSCME's endorsement several months ago, but five locals in New Mexico are backing Balderas, who some argue might be the Democrats' answer to Hispanic Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. Meanwhile, Wilson has received fundraising support from mainstream Republicans like ex-Bush adviser Karl Rove and Sen. John McCain; on the other hand, conservative activists dislike Wilson, who lost a 2008 Senate primary to Rep. Steve Pearce, and are backing Sanchez. Democrats may ultimately be favored in the Blue-leaning Land of Enchantment, but this race is a TOSS-UP for now.

NEW YORK : Like California, New York is another mega-state with a Republican Party on life support: Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is in grand shape for election to a full term. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

OHIO : Republican Treasurer Josh Mandel made a fundraising splash earlier this summer, as he outraised every other challenger in the nation, not to mention his likely opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, during the second quarter. Mandel also caught a break when 2006 gubernatorial nominee Ken Blackwell decided against running for Senate; Blackwell could easily have won the primary only to be served up as a sacrificial lamb to Brown next fall. On the Republican side, the only one now standing in Mandel's way is ex-state Sen. Kevin Coughlin, who is on the rocks with party leaders after unsuccessfully trying to depose Summit County (Akron) Republican Party Chairman Alex Arshinkoff a few years ago. Disrespecting one of the most powerful non-elected Republicans in Ohio is not a way to endear oneself to important GOP fundraisers. Mandel, armed with the endorsements of unofficial Tea Party leader Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and the Club for Growth, should be fine in his primary. But the young conservative will face a stern test in trying to unseat the liberal Brown. Mandel has his best chance if President Obama's reelection bid founders in Ohio. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

PENNSYLVANIA : Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, the man with the golden name, should be fine in his bid for a second term, especially because Republicans still have not found a top contender to challenge him next year. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

RHODE ISLAND : Democrats have races all over the country to worry about, but not in Rhode Island, where Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse should cruise to a second term in this Blue state. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

TENNESSEE : Even as Democrats hope he faces a primary challenge, no credible challengers have emerged to either the left or right of Republican Sen. Bob Corker. SAFE REPUBLICAN

TEXAS : Democrats were hopeful that Ricardo Sanchez, a retired Army general, would make an impact in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, but so far he has attracted little buzz or money. Texas' next senator is almost assuredly going to come from the Republican Party, and the primary could come down to a one-on-one showdown between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and ex-Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz. There are other notable candidates -- such as ex-Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones – who might catch fire along the way. If no one gets over 50% in the primary the top two finishers will face each other in a runoff. If it did come down to Dewhurst and Cruz, it would pit a top establishment figure -- Dewhurst -- versus a Tea Party insurgent -- Cruz -- that some are comparing to new Republican darling Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Whether Dewhurst is the new Charlie Crist remains to be seen; to us, he's still the favorite for the nomination because he has the support of the Lone Star State's powerful Republican establishment. The bidness of Texas is bidness, and there's no "T," or "Tea," in bidness. SAFE REPUBLICAN

UTAH : Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, much like his longtime colleague, Richard Lugar, is looking stronger and stronger as he faces down a Tea Party challenge. Hatch got a big break recently when Rep. Jason Chaffetz decided against mounting a primary challenge against him. Hatch could still face a convention challenge from another candidate, perhaps state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, but we really think that if Hatch was in trouble and beatable, Chaffetz would have run. The only way Hatch or another Republican would face a Democratic test would be if Rep. Jim Matheson entered the race; it is doubtful that he will as long as he still has a decent House district from which to seek reelection. SAFE REPUBLICAN

VIRGINIA : Poll after poll has shown that the likely race between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb remains a toss-up. And we fully suspect every poll taken from now until next Labor Day will show the same thing, unless President Obama continues to slide, taking Kaine with him, or George Allen makes another "Macaca"-style goof. We feel confident saying one thing: Allen has already fended off his top Tea Party primary challenger, Jamie Radtke, who has been unable to get any traction and has gotten caught up in a distracting feud with conservative blogger Erick Erickson of RedState.com. With other candidates in the primary, any anti-Allen vote would be split anyway. As for Kaine, he's a lock for his nomination; Rep. Bobby Scott hasn't officially ruled himself out of the race yet, but we would be quite surprised if he took the plunge. Republicans can win back the Senate without an Allen victory, but a triumph in the Old Dominion would make their job a whole lot easier. TOSS-UP

VERMONT : Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, recently suggested that President Obama should get a primary challenger. Sanders has plenty of time to chat about presidential politics; his own reelection appears assured. SAFE INDEPENDENT/DEMOCRATIC

WASHINGTON : The battle between Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee and Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna in the governor's race could very well drown out any noise from the Senate race. We imagine that would be just fine with Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, who doesn't seem vulnerable anyway. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

WISCONSIN : As noted above, ex-Sen. Russ Feingold's decision to not run for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl ensures that this race remains a toss-up, for now. Wealthy ex-Rep. Mark Neumann just announced his bid, and he will be the conservative, Tea Party challenger to the expected Republican frontrunner, ex-Gov. Tommy Thompson. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (his brother, Scott, is majority leader in the state Senate) is also in the race. Thompson is the most electable Republican for the general election because he's a relative moderate, which in turn makes him vulnerable to a primary challenge. The Club for Growth, in fact, is already running attack ads against Thompson. On the Democratic side, Feingold's departure allows Rep. Tammy Baldwin to run for the nomination; ex-Rep. Steve Kagen and Rep. Ron Kind might challenge her. Baldwin, if elected, would be the nation's first openly lesbian senator. Of course, the Senate battle takes place as Wisconsin remains in the throes of a battle over union rights. Republican Gov. Scott Walker could face a recall election last year, but since Democrats made a strong but ultimately unsuccessful bid to capture the state Senate from Republicans (they successfully recalled two senators, one short of the three they needed to win control) they might be pushing their luck against Walker. We'll see. TOSS-UP

WEST VIRGINIA : Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin did a favor for his political patron, former governor and now Sen. Joe Manchin, by signing new congressional maps that effectively keep the three current U.S. House districts in place. That gives Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore, a relatively easy path to reelection. Had her district been made more Democratic, she might have been tempted to run against Manchin for Senate next year. As Manchin runs for his first full term -- he replaced the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd in a special election last year -- he won't get any help at the top of the ticket because President Obama will almost assuredly do poorly in the Mountain State. But West Virginians, like the people of the Deep South a generation ago, can distinguish between national Democrats and state Democrats, and Manchin is trying to do his best to be the latter. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

WYOMING : Wyoming is another Republican state with another safe Republican, Sen. John Barrasso. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Larry J. Sabato is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.   Comments about this content should be directed to the author.

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