-- With their path to a majority disappearing, national Republicans are warming up to Missouri nominee Todd Akin, who had been abandoned by the national party following his controversial comments about "legitimate rape." After the deadline for Akin to withdraw from the race passed this week, Sen. Jim DeMint and former Sens. Rick Santorumand Kit Bond endorsed the embattled congressman, while DeMint, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Tom Coburn and Sen. Jim Inhofe are hosting a fundraiser for Akin in Washington next week. Even the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which had pledged not to support Akin, has opened the door to possibly dumping money into the Show Me State this fall. -- The NRSC's renewed interest in Missouri is a sign of how troubling the GOP's Senate prospects look in traditional battlegrounds like Ohio and Florida. Despite millions of dollars in advertising poured against Sherrod Brown and Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbents are still maintaining comfortable leads. Missouri favors the GOP demographically, even as Akin has been doing everything possible (with his latest condescending post-debate comments towards McCaskill) to prevent himself from getting back into contention. If there was any doubt campaigns matter a whole lot in Senate races, just look at the landscape. It's less the national environment (or the presidential race) - it's the candidates themselves. -- It's also remarkable that only one Democratic senator looks truly endangered down the final stretch - Montana's Jon Tester. That's the main reason why Republicans now look as likely to lose a net Senate seat as they are to win back the majority. -- With that in mind, Republicans have sought to expand the Senate map, with the focus partially shifting to an unlikely place: New England. The contest in Connecticut suddenly looks competitive, thanks to Republican Linda McMahon's surprisingly strong campaign against Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy. And Republicans have tried to keep Maine in play, as well. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee going up in the state with a $420,000 ad buy is an acknowledgement that the race is competitive -- or could be, at least, if no one helps former Independent Gov. Angus King, who is being pummeled by GOP attack ads. National Democrats had previously stayed out of Maine, where King is still favored and expected to caucus with them if elected. But the DSCC is in an awkward spot in Maine: While they can attack Republican Charlie Summers in the three-way race, they can't exactly target Democratic nominee Cynthia Dill, whose potential to erode King's support gives Republicans hope. -- One other spot where the GOP remains optimistic is Wisconsin, despite the string of recent polls showing Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin inching ahead of former Gov. Tommy Thompson. Thompson's campaign faces a two-tiered challenge in fending off the Baldwin surge: define the Democrat as an extremist and remind voters of -- or in some cases, introduce them to -- Thompson's accomplishments as governor. The second point might seem unnecessary considering Thompson's 14-year tenure in the Governor's Mansion. But for many young voters and newcomers to the Badger State, this year represents the first time they've ever seen the former governor's name on a ballot. The two-pronged approach was on full display during the first debate between the two candidates Friday night. From the outset, Thompson labeled Baldwin as a far-left ideologue. But he also repeatedly ticked off his accomplishments as governor -- tax cuts, welfare reform, BadgerCare -- while stressing his success in working with Democrats in the state legislature. The two threads combine to form one larger message: Thompson has the experience and outlook to work with both sides of the aisle while Baldwin has proven herself to be a partisan creature of Washington. Of course, the biggest factor for Thompson could be the top of the ticket. If Obama distances himself from Romney and wins by more than 5 points in Wisconsin, the math gets tough for Thompson. -- But for all of the talk of voters becoming more polarized, speculation about ticket-splitting is all the rage in several states. Republican gubernatorial candidates are favored to win big in North Dakota and Indiana, and Romney will easily carry both states. Yet Democrat Heidi Heitkamp is even with GOP Rep. Rick Berg in the North Dakota Senate race, and Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly is running neck-and-neck with Republican Richard Mourdock in Indiana. -- Another hopeful depending on crossover votes, Washington's Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, released the first negative television ad of his gubernatorial campaign this week -- and it was a bit of a head-scratcher. The ad was typical GOP fare, blaming former Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee for increasing the size of government during his 15 years in Congress and emphasizing that McKenna's jobs plan will free up business leaders to create jobs. This is the kind of ad you run to attract Republican voters, a group McKenna has no problem with. What he needs are Democrats and independents and, although he's already made some headway with those groups according to a recent Elway Poll, this isn't the kind of message that's going to bring those people into the fold. -- Gubernatorial contests have taken a back seat to the presidential and Senate campaigns this cycle, but several statehouse battles remain tight, including the under-the-radar match-up in New Hampshire. Obama may be leading Romney in the Granite State, but looking down ballot at the gubernatorial and congressional races illuminates the ideological battles that consistently make the state New England's tug-of-war territory. Aside from this week's brief uproar when 2nd District Democratic nominee Annie Kuster reportedly grabbed a camera from Republican Rep. Charlie Bass' tracker, all three contests have been almost entirely issue-based, exposing the candidates' differences on taxes, Medicare and social issues -- and giving them ample room to box their opponents in as either extreme tea-party radicals or tax-loving liberals. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Maggie Hassan ties Republican nominee Ovide Lamontagne to the unpopular GOP-controlled state legislature every chance she gets, and argues he's a threat to women's reproductive rights, while Kuster and former Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter follow the same mold, painting Bass and GOP Rep. Frank Guinta as "tea partiers" out-of-touch with the middle class and eager to cut taxes for millionaires. Lamontagne, in particular, accuses Hassan of wanting to raise taxes - always a touchy subject in a state effectively governed by a tax pledge. -- While they're arguing about issues in New Hampshire, other candidates across the country are debating, well, debates. Candidates' appetite for debating can be largely dependent on their position in the race. GOP Senate nominees Pete Hoekstra, Linda Lingle, Joe Kyrillos, Linda McMahon and Connie Mack all dismissed their primary opponents' calls for more (or more televised) debates, only to attack their general election counterparts for avoiding a more robust debate schedule. The underdog stands more to gain from a debate, and a shift from primary leader to November challenger can bring about a new-found attitude toward debating.
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