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Republicans could win as many as 55 seats in the U.S. Senate

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State Senator Chris McDaniel nearly defeated long time Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran in the primary in that state earlier this week. Falling just short of the 50 percent need to avoid a runoff, McDaniel and Cochran face off in a runoff on June 24 that will decide the Republican nomination for that senate seat. The winner of that runoff, which is likely to be conservative rising star McDaniel, is almost assured of being the next junior senator from Mississippi.

In the meantime, the senate seat in Kentucky is now in play, as the Real Clear Politics average of polls gives Mitch McConnell only a slim two point lead over Democrat nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes in the race for the Kentucky senate seat. McConnell first ran in 1984 for this senate seat, and by the end of 2014 he will have served 30 years as senator. McConnell was reelected with just 53 percent of the vote in 2008, and appears to heading for a close victory in his bid for reelection this year.

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 16 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 46 seats. The remaining 10 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 eight seats net and have a 52-seat majority next year in the senate. Below are projections of the 10 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, Mississippi, 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 46 total seats. The remaining 10, 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 10 to hold a majority of the senate with Vice President Joe Biden's tie-breaking vote, or otherwise they need to win just six of the 10 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. Recent polls suggest Sullivan may be taking the lead in the GOP contest. For now, this one leans Republican.

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 likely to be challenged by 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. Braley has a small lead in the polls but Ernst could soon put this seat into play for the GOP. As of now, this seat leans Democrat.

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. Republicans appear to have a contested primary between Rep. Bill Cassidy and retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness. Polls show Cassidy more likely to make the runoff and defeat Landrieu in a close race. This race leans Republican.

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

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 a little more than one week ago, and will face off against Kay Hagan in November. This race leans Republican.

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 ten seats, as projected above, Democrats would win five of them while Republicans would win five. In total, this would leave the senate projected with 49 Democrats (including the two Independents that caucus with them), 51 Republicans.

The Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana senate races in 2014 could decide which party controls the senate after the election. If the GOP wins all three, they would have a shot at a 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.

Republicans are likely to come out of the 2014 election with 52 seats. If the seats in Colorado and Iowa shift to the GOP side, and if Scott Brown gains some traction in his campaign in New Hamshire, it is possible that the GOP could capture as large as a 55 seat seat majority.

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