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Senate Race Rankings

Hotline assesses which seats are most likely to switch party control this year.

October 22, 2010

With less than two weeks to go before Election Day, Democrats believe their chances are getting better in a number of key states. That's not a proposition with which the GOP disagrees, but Republicans still think they're set for a good night.

The Senate landscape remains far more volatile than the House playing field, though, and the range in which GOP gains could fall is much wider than most observers say. Make no mistake, with a fortnight to go, 10 states are still in serious play.

On to our rankings of seats most likely to change hands:

1. North Dakota -- Open Seat (D) (Last Ranking: 1)
Say hello to Senator John Hoeven. He's one of the few governors to still sport sky-high approval ratings. This race won't even be close.
2. Arkansas -- Blanche Lincoln (D) (2)
Lincoln is closing her mile-high deficit, but she's still trailing Rep. John Boozman (R) badly, by double digits. Another sign she's toast: Boozman raised nearly twice as much as she did this quarter, despite her perch as Agriculture Committee chair. The real question Arkansas's move to the right raises is: How much trouble will Sen. Mark Pryor (D) be in when he runs for reelection in 2014?
3. Indiana -- Open Seat (D) (3)
Sign of the times: In 2006, Brad Ellsworth was so far ahead of an incumbent GOP congressman he didn't have to worry about winning. Now he's so far behind that Republican Dan Coats is all but guaranteed to take his old job back.
4. Wisconsin -- Russell Feingold (D) (7)
Even with Feingold trailing in all recent public polls, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hasn't spent a dime on ads to prop him up. That shows how fast he has fallen against Ron Johnson, an outsider who's captured much of the same appeal that allowed Feingold to win in 1992.
5. Illinois -- Open Seat (D) (4)
Rep. Mark Kirk (R) should win the award for biggest underachiever of the year. This is a race Republicans feel should already be in the bag, but isn't. The GOP wants to recenter this race on the economy -- they're actually worried that they've paid too much attention to Dem state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias's ties to mob figures.
6. Colorado -- Michael Bennet (D) (6)
Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck's "Meet the Press" performance was atrocious, especially his comment equating homosexuality with alcoholism. Republicans are concerned Buck's numbers are moving in the wrong direction. But if the GOP refocuses on the economy, Bennet is awfully vulnerable.
7. Pennsylvania -- Open Seat (D) (5)
The Democratic base is coming on strong in the Keystone State, propelling Rep. Joe Sestak to his first lead over Pat Toomey in months in two polls. Republicans never win big in Pennsylvania, and the Democratic strategy of highlighting Toomey's conservative views in Philadelphia is a smart one.
8. Nevada -- Harry Reid (D) (8)
Sharron Angle's respectable debate performance last week gave her enough credibility with the state's few remaining undecided voters, while Reid's lackadaisical showing raised new doubts about his prospects. But in a state in which Democrats have invested far more in party infrastructure, a narrow race could flip to Reid once turnout is factored in.
9. West Virginia -- Open Seat (D) (14)
Gov. Joe Manchin (D) has gotten his sea legs on the trail since "hick-gate," but he's still neck-and-neck with businessman John Raese (R) in public polling. If Manchin can't win, it's going to be a long night for Democrats, not just in the Rust Belt but across the nation.
10. California -- Barbara Boxer (D) (9)
California is a state that closes late, and Boxer's unfavorability ratings are the worst they've ever been. She's not above 50 in any public poll, and if undecideds break to Carly Fiorina (R), she's in trouble. Republicans acknowledge Fiorina is too far right for the state in any normal year. Fortunately for them, this is far from a normal year.
11. Washington -- Patty Murray (D) (12)
Boeing didn't help Murray by announcing it will cut health care benefits. But both parties see Murray leading former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R). In an election in which every voter gets his or her ballot through the mail, turnout is everything.
12. Kentucky -- Open Seat (R) (10)
Attorney General Jack Conway (D) raised eyebrows with an ad questioning Republican Rand Paul's commitment to Christianity. It seemed like a Hail Mary attack, reminiscent of Elizabeth Dole's "There is no God" ad in '08. The last heave from a candidate who sees himself needing to change the race?
13. Alaska -- Lisa Murkowski (R) (17)
Party strategists don't know what to do here. Republicans are more worried about Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams (D) than Democrats are hopeful. With Murkowski and attorney Joe Miller (R) going nuclear on each other, McAdams has a needle to thread -- albeit a thin one.
14. Connecticut -- Open Seat (D) (16)
This is one of the few races slipping away from Republicans. Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon (R) is just too controversial, and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has polled above 50 percent in every legitimate public survey for a month.
15. New Hampshire -- Open Seat (R) (11)
The DSCC hasn't spent a dime for Rep. Paul Hodes (D), and that's telling. Despite GOP Attorney General Kelly Ayotte's flaws, she hasn't trailed Hodes in any polling we could find.
16. Missouri -- Open Seat (R) (15)
Make no mistake, Democrats pulled out of the Show Me State. We thought Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's ad hitting Rep. Roy Blunt (R) as the father of the TARP bailouts was a great spot, but it's had no effect on a state in which President Obama has become seriously unpopular.
17. Florida -- Open Seat (R) (13)
The Republican base in Florida isn't dominant, but it's certainly enough to win when two other candidates are splitting the Democratic vote. Former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) looks like a safe bet to be the state's next senator.
18. Louisiana -- David Vitter (R) (--)
Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) took a shot at linking Vitter to prostitution scandals with a gutsy two-minute ad. But in this climate and in this state, Obama is a bigger albatross than Republican scandal, almost no matter how salacious.
19. Ohio -- Open Seat (R) (18)
Former Rep. Rob Portman (R) has vulnerabilities, but he's run a nearly flawless campaign. He's actually running so far ahead of Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) that he's likely to help gubernatorial nominee John Kasich (R) turn out more Republican voters.
20. North Carolina -- Richard Burr (R) (19)
In 2008, Democrat Kay Hagan was able to portray Elizabeth Dole as out of touch with the state. This year, Burr has worked hard to avoid that stigma, and Dem Secretary of State Elaine Marshall's attacks haven't gone anywhere.
BONUS. Delaware -- Open Seat (D) (20)
Dear National Media: Christine O'Donnell is going to lose by more than 20 points. Please stop covering this race when there are so many other good contests to cover.
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