According to many analysts, it is becoming increasingly likely that Republicans will wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. Vaunted liberal columnist Nate Silver enraged liberals last week with his forecast of a GOP victory in the Senate. As Examiner reported last year, Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win a Senate majority. A pickup of three to four seats is almost certain with the possibility of a gain of as many as 10. A new series of Rasmussen polls released on March 28 offers insights on the most competitive races.
A total of 36 Senate seats are up for reelection this year. Democrats are defending 21 seats and Republicans 15. The majority of these seats are safe for both parties, but 16 races are competitive enough to offer a challengers a chance.
Analyst Larry Sabato has labeled three races as tossups: Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina. All of these seats are currently held by Democrats. Charlie Cook adds the Democratic seats in Arkansas and Michigan, as well Republican seats in Georgia and Kentucky, to the tossup column. Both Sabato and Cook rate the Democratic seats in Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia as likely GOP pickups. Both men also rate Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Virginia as likely, but not certain victories for Democratic incumbents. Mississippi is a likely Republican victory.
Below is a state by state rundown of the most competitive races:
Alaska: Rated as a tossup by both Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato, Democrat Mark Begich is defending his seat against three possible challengers. According to Rasmussen, Begich is behind Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and tied with former Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan. Begich holds a double-digit lead over Tea Party candidate Joe Miller. Alaska’s Republican primary will be held on August 15.
Colorado: Both Cook and Sabato note that Colorado currently leans Democratic. Mark Udall, the incumbent, will likely face Republican Cory Gardner. The latest Rasmussen polling shows that the race may be more of a tossup with Gardner within one point of Udall. A PPP poll from mid-March showed a two point gap. Udall has been hurt by the fallout of a scandal in which Udall’s office challenged statistics from Colorado’s Division of Insurance that showed 250,000 insurance cancellations due to Obamacare.
Georgia: Charlie Cook has rated the race for retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss’ seat as a tossup, while Sabato considers it leaning Republican. A host of Republican candidates including Georgia’s former secretary of state Karen Handel, Tea party favorite Rep. Paul Broun, Rep. Phil Gingrey, and businessman David Perdue. According to Real Clear Politics, current polling shows Perdue as the leading Republican candidate. The likely Democratic candidate is Michelle Nunn, daughter of longtime Democratic senator, Sam Nunn. Georgia’s primary will be held on May 20.
Iowa: In Iowa, Democrats have a slight edge in the race for retiring Democrat Tom Harkin’s seat. Rasmussen gives Democrat Bruce Braley a slight edge over three Republican challengers: Joni Ernst, a veteran who made headlines recently for comparing cutting federal spending to castrating hogs, businessman Mark Jacobs, and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker. Braley leads a fourth challenger, Sam Clovis, by 10 points. Braley recently damaged his campaign by making disparaging remarks about Iowa farmers, which may put the race in the tossup category.
Kentucky: Minority leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign has been damaged by a Tea Party challenger backed by the Senate Conservatives Fund. Recent polling shows McConnell with a big lead over challenger Matt Bevin, but Rasmussen shows that he is in a tight race with likely Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. Sabato gives McConnell the edge, but Cook calls the race a tossup. The Kentucky primary is on April 21.
Louisiana: Both analysts rate Louisiana as a tossup. Incumbent Mary Landrieu faces several likely Republican challengers, Rep. Bill Cassidy, state Rep. Paul Hollis, and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, who is backed by the Senate Conservatives Fund. In Lousiana, there is no primary; all candidates will be on the ballot in the general election. If no candidate receives 51 percent of the vote, the top two candidates, regardless of party, will face each other in a runoff. According to Rasmussen, Cassidy leads Landrieu by four points while Hollis is in a dead heat. Maness is a distant third.
Michigan: Democrat Carl Levin’s retirement opens the door to a possible Republican pickup in Michigan. Cook rates the state as a tossup while Sabato gives the edge to Democrat Rep. Gary Peters. Terri Lynn Land is the likely Republican candidate. Rasmussen currently shows Peters with a two point edge.
Minnesota: In Minnesota, Al Franken is likely to be reelected. A host of Republican candidates with no clear leader will vie for the chance to oppose him on August 12.
Mississippi: Incumbent Thad Cochran (R) faces a primary challenge from another Senate Conservatives Fund challenger, Chris McDaniel. The winner will face Democrat Travis Childers. Cochran is the likely winner of both the primary and general elections. The primary is June 3.
Montana: Both Cook and Sabato rate Montana as leaning Republican. The Democratic incumbent, John Walsh, lags against both a GOP challenger, Steve Daines, and a Democratic primary challenger, John Bohlinger. The primary is June 3.
North Carolina: Rated as a tossup by both analysts, Kay Hagan trails her two Republican challengers according to Rasmussen. Thom Tillis, state speaker of the house, has a seven point lead while physician Greg Brannon leads her by four points. The primary is May 6.
New Hampshire: Jean Shaheen has an edge in keeping her seat according to both analysts. Former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown recently entered the race and has an edge over former N.H. senator Robert Smith. The primary is September 9.
South Dakota: South Dakota is a likely GOP pickup according to both analysts. Democrat Tim Johnson is retiring. Former governor Mike Rounds is the likely Republican candidate and holds a 20 point lead over Democrat Rick Weiland whose signature issue is a proposed constitutional amendment to limit spending on federal elections.
West Virginia: West Virginia also leans Republican. Democrat Jay Rockefeller is retiring. Republican Rep. Shelly Moore Capito is likely to face Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in the general election. Capito holds a 14 point lead according to Rasmussen.
While much can change between now and November, Examiner predicts that Republicans will pick up Senate seats in Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Winning any two of six more possible pickups would mean that Republicans would control the Senate for the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Those six possible victories for the GOP are Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, and Michigan. At this point, the only likely pickup for Democrats is Kentucky.
Correction: An earlier version of this article reversed the names of the candidates in Michigan.