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Democrats could retain slim Senate majority in the November elections

Mark Warner leads by 23 points in the Virginia Senate race
Mark Warner leads by 23 points in the Virginia Senate race
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Virginia Senator Mark Warner has a huge lead over Republican Ed Gillespie, according to a Hampton University poll released today and reported on Real Clear Politics. With those respondents who are leaning either way included, Warner leads with 55 percent to 32 percent for Gillespie. Mark Warner serves in the seat in which former Senator John Warner, a Republican who is not related, was routinely reelected to several times. Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, who has served as both chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and the Republican National Committee, is a Republican strategist who also served as Counselor to the President under George W. Bush.

The numbers in the Virginia Senate race, as well as some of the other numbers from that same Hampton University poll, illustrate why the GOP is struggling nationally to be in a position to regain control of the Senate in this year's elections. While only 37 percent believe Virginia is “on the wrong track,” 48 percent of Virginians in the same polls said the state is going in the right direction. The state's Democrat Governor, Terry McAuliffe has a 54 percent approval rating while only 26 percent of the state's voters disapprove. Of those who responded to that survey, only 26 percent are reported to identify themselves as Republicans while 35 percent reported to be Independent voters, and 36 percent identified as Democrats. Voters are not registered as members of political parties in Virginia, so polling data is the only indication of their partisan affiliation.

The Michigan senate seat continues to lean Democrat, while Republican Governor Rick Snyder maintains a narrow lead of his Democrat opponent in November. A new MRG survey reported by Real Clear Politics states, “Congressman Gary Peters continues to widen his lead over former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land in the race for the U.S. Senate in Michigan to replace retiring U.S. Senator Carl Levin. The MRG poll shows Peters leading Land at 47 percent to 40 percent among likely voters in the November General Election. This is a nine-percentage point gain for Democrat Peters since March of this year when an MRG poll showed Land leading 40 percent to 38 percent.”

The Michigan seat, with the retirement of Senator Carl Levin, should be a key pickup opportunity for the GOP, but it appears the Democrats will retain that seat. This is one of several key seats the GOP could compete for but appear to be leaning Democrat and together give the Democrats an even chance at retaining control of the Senate.

In total, there are 36 seats up for election in 2014. Among the other 64 seats not up for election in 2014, Democrats hold 34 of them while Republicans hold 30. 25 of the seats up for election are considered likely or safe for either party, which includes 15 seats currently held by Republicans and 10 seats currently held by Democrats. With those seats added, Democrats will have 44 seats (including the two independents that caucus with the Democrats) and Republicans will have 45 seats. The remaining 11 seats will decide which party controls the senate after the 2014 elections.

With renewed polling strength for McConnell, overall the GOP appears at this time to be likely to gain six seats net and have 50 seats next year in the senate, while two of the seats are too close at this time and are rated as toss ups. Below are projections of the 11 seats that will likely decide the which party wins the majority.

The safe or likely seats are as follows:

Republicans: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, both Oklahoma seats, both South Carolina seats, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. In South Dakota, the retirement of Tim Johnson makes that seat a likely Republican gain.

Democrats: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

Adding those seats gives the Democrats 42 seats and the two Independents that caucus with them (total 44 seats) while the Republicans would have 45 total seats. The remaining 11, covered below, will decide which party will hold a majority in the senate after the 2014 election. Democrats need to win at least six of those 11 to hold a majority of the senate with Vice President Joe Biden's tie-breaking vote, or otherwise they need to win just seven of the 11 seats to hold a 51 seat majority.

Alaska: Incumbent Senator Mark Begich is running for reelection and could face one of three possible GOP candidates: 2010 nominee Joe Miller, Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, or Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Incumbent Mark Begich leads in the RCP average over all three of the possible GOP nominees. For now, this one leans Democrat.

Arkansas: While this state has turned heavily Republican in the last decade, incumbent Senator Mark Pryor still has a shot at reelection. The GOP nominee, Rep. Tom Cotton, is also running a strong campaign and has attracted strong support in the state and from conservative activists around the country. The polls show this race close, and as of now it leans Republican.

Colorado: Incumbent Senator Mark Udall is favored for reelection but he is facing a strong challenge from Republican Cory Gardner. Gardner has cut Udall's lead to within the margin of error in recent polls, and could give the GOP a shot at this seat, but as of now this race leans Democrat.

Iowa: Senator Tom Harkin is retiring, leaving an open race for this seat. Democrats are likely to nominate Rep. Bruce Braley while Republicans nominated Joni Ernst. Gaffes by Braley have help Ernst eke out a very narrow lead in the RCP average of polls for this race. As of now, it just barely leans Republican.

Kentucky: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is in a tough battle for his seat. McConnell seems to have gained some momentum after soundly defeating Matt Bevin in the primary, and with conservatives and Republicans uniting behind the nominee in the general election against Democrat nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes, this race moves back to leaning Republican.

Louisiana: Senator Mary Landrieu faces a very challenging reelection effort in a state that has turned heavily Republican. Polls show Republican Bill Cassidy more likely to make the runoff and defeat Landrieu in a close race in the runoff. This race leans Republican.

Michigan: Incumbent Senator Carl Levin is retiring, leaving Rep. Gary Peters as the Democratic nominee to run against Republican Terri Lynn Land. This seat leans Democrat.

Mississippi: This seat moves from likely Republican to tossup due to the messy political situation after the controversional runoff won by Senator Thad Cochran over TEA party supported challenger Chris McDaniel. A recent poll of Repubicans by Chism Strategies suggest that enough Republicans could stay home or vote for Democratic nominee Travis Childers. Until the picture becomes clear in the polls, this seat is a toss up.

Montana: Senator Max Baucus is retiring. Ex-Governor Brian Schweitzer will not be running for the seat, he has chosen to stay in Montana rather than go to Washington D.C. This race will be Democrat John Walsh running against Republican Steve Daines. As of now, this one leans Republican.

North Carolina: Senatior Kay Hagan is one of the most vulnerable incumbents for 2014, but the Republicans have a long list of potential candidates at this point. Thom Tillis won the GOP primary earlier this year, and will face off against Kay Hagan in November. Polling shows Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis tied in the RCP average of polls. This seat is a toss-up.

New Hampshire: The voters in this state had elected Democratic majorities in both house of the state legislature in 2008 and turned both over to the Republicans in 2010. Democrats made substantial gains in 2012 while President Obama carried the state. While Republicans could make a come-back in 2014 much like they did in 2010, Senator Jeanne Shaheen seems to have sufficient popularity to win reelection. The likely Republican candidate appears to be former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. Brown seems to the heavy favorite to win the primary, and probably lose in November to Shaheen. As of now, this one leans Democrat.

Among those 11 seats, as projected above, Democrats would win four of them while Republicans would win five. In total, this would leave the senate projected with 48 Democrats (including the two Independents that caucus with them), 50 Republicans, and two seats too close to call projected now as toss ups.

The Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi senate races in 2014 could decide which party controls the senate after the election. If the GOP wins all four, they would have a shot at least 50 seats and in need of winning just one more to obtain a majority.

But the GOP could still fail to win the majority. Remember, most predictions in 2012 had the GOP winning the Montana and North Dakota seats, and Democrats pulled off upsets to win them both. In 2014, the races in Montana and South Dakota repeat that result, which would give Democrats two more seats and a shot at holding the majority with 51 seats. But those upsets were part of the voting turnout momentum that helped drive the 2012 results, and in this mid-term election in 2014, where low turnout is very possible, it is unlikely that such a pair of upsets will happen again.

At this time, if the two seats projected above as toss-ups are won by the Democrats, or one or two of the other seats barely leaning Republican are won by the Democrats, the Democrats would in fact retain a majority in the Senate during an election season where the political atmosphere seems to favor Republicans having a high probability of regaining contorl of the Senate. If Republicans were winning all the “red” state Senate races and were competitive in “purple” states like New Hampshire and Virginia, the Democrats would stand to have a very low probability of holding on to the Senate majority. As it stands now, Democrats are exceeding expectations and could retain the majority.