Updated at 7:56 a.m. on June 15.
Wins by controversial GOP candidates Rand Paul in Kentucky and Sharron Angle in Nevada have helped to make the Senate picture look a bit more promising for Senate Democrats. Even so, Democrats are still far from assured of winning in either state and are likely to lose a significant number of seats this fall.
Moreover, the macro picture still looks bleak for Democrats. Almost 60 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. Democrats are trailing or tied with Republicans on the generic ballot test. Meanwhile, polling continues to show that Republicans are more motivated to vote this fall than Democrats. And, while President Obama's approval rating is hovering close to 50 percent, he's viewed unfavorably by independents. The latest Pollster.com trend line has Obama's disapproval rating among this group at 53 percent.
Of the 10 seats most likely to turn over in The Hotline's latest Senate Race Rankings, nine are held by Democrats. At this point, we see a GOP pickup of six to eight seats. The firewall protecting Democrats from minority status comes down to these three seats: Washington (Patty Murray), California (Barbara Boxer) and Wisconsin (Russell Feingold). To lose control of the Senate, Democrats would have to lose two of these three -- and not pick up any GOP-held seats. That scenario seems unlikely today, but given the incredibly volatile -- and unpredictable -- cycle we've had thus far, it'd be foolish to dismiss it completely.
1. North Dakota (D): It's been 30 years since North Dakota elected a Republican to Congress, but barring a shake-up of epic proportions, Gov. John Hoeven (R) will win here this fall.
2. Arkansas (D): While Sen. Blanche Lincoln's come-from-behind runoff victory was impressive, the media seems to be ignoring the elephant in room -- polling that has consistently shown her running behind Rep. John Boozman (R). While some argue that the primary strengthened her (allowing her to fight back and defeat "Washington special interests"), it also forced her to move left, especially on the hot-button issue of health care reform, in a state that's been trending right for the last few years.
3. Delaware (D): While Rep. Michael Castle (R) certainly remains the favorite here, New Castle Co. Executive Chris Coons (D) is no more of a long shot than, say, Joe Biden was in 1972. This race will tighten eventually, but when (and by how much) is still in question.
4. Indiana (D): Former Sen. Dan Coats (R) is far from a perfect candidate, yet Indiana remains a GOP-leaning state. While Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth's profile might be good for a statewide candidate in other cycles, this will be a tough year for Dems to run in Indiana.
5. Nevada (D): Every cycle or so, an incumbent pops up whose numbers are so bad that he appears to be a dead man walking (think Sen. Rick Santorum in 2006 or Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009). Harry Reid certainly fits into this category, but it's also true that Sharron Angle has given him ample ammunition with which to fight back. Only time will tell if Angle herself matters at all, or if this race ends up being a simple referendum on Reid himself -- one he'd likely lose.
6. Illinois (D): Rep. Mark Kirk (R) has certainly been bruised from having embellished his military record. But will that sort of controversy have the same gravity and staying power in voters' minds as Alexi Giannoulias' problems with his family's controversial bank? Dems need to find a catchy moniker for Kirk on par with Republicans' "mob banker" for Giannoulias.
7. Pennsylvania (D): Rep. Joe Sestak (D) got a bit of a polling bump thanks to his defeat of Sen. Arlen Specter (D). But his voting record -- especially on issues like cap-and-trade -- is going to be much tougher to defend in a general election.
8. Colorado (D): Will former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton (R) be the next establishment-picked candidate to fall in a GOP primary? If so, it remains to be seen if Weld Co. District Attorney Ken Buck (R) can unify the party in time to take out Sen. Michael Bennet (D) (who, of course, has his own primary to worry about). But neither Republican would have much time to fill a nearly depleted war chest after the Aug. 10 primary. To us, this is about as pure a toss-up as there is this cycle.
9. Washington (D): Dino Rossi knows better than anyone how tough it is for a Republican to hit 50.1 percent here. After such a long drought, this will probably be the best cycle for Evergreen State Republicans since 1994, but Patty Murray has beaten three GOP congressmen in a row and is no stranger to tough, competitive races.
10. Ohio (R): Although this race is a true toss-up for now, former Rep. Rob Portman (R) is making use of his sizable cash advantage over Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D). His new TV ad, which highlights his commitment to job creation, is also intended to help inoculate himself for the coming attacks on his work in the Bush administration.
11. Missouri (R): With no primary to speak of, this race has remained in the juvenile "jab and barb-throwing" period for nearly a year. At some point, however, the campaigns are going to have to start engaging each other for real, and we're waiting to see who'll throw the first punch.
12. New Hampshire (R): Rep. Paul Hodes (D) hasn't fared too well in recent polls as voters in this swing state seem determined to reverse their '06/'08 support for Dems. But at least Hodes doesn't have to battle a crowded (and late) primary like the GOP candidates do. So while he remains an underdog for now, it's not impossible that the GOP nominee might be fairly battered and bruised by the Sept. 14 primary.
13. Kentucky (R): Dems were delighted when Rand Paul was nominated on May 18, and even happier when he began musing on controversial political issues. But many pundits are forgetting that Kentucky remains a fairly red state at the federal level, and while this race is technically competitive, Paul still has a slight edge here.
14. California (D): Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) finally has an opponent who can match her in financial wherewithal, but with Carly Fiorina's cash comes her mixed history with Hewlett-Packard. Somewhat comparable to Reid's race, it remains to be seen if Democrats can successfully make Fiorina herself an unpalatable option or if the race ends up being a mere referendum on Boxer and Washington in general.
15. Florida (R): This race seems to be in a constant state of flux now that Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) has a credible challenger in developer Jeff Greene (D). Regardless of how that primary sorts itself out, can Gov. Charlie Crist (I) maintain his polling lead over Marco Rubio (R) once the Democratic nominee starts to finally get some statewide name ID?
Quinn McCord contributed to this column.
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