Top 10 Senate races to watch
By Aaron Blake,
Democrats stand a good chance of pulling an upset in this red state. Polls continue to show physician Richard Carmona in a close race with GOP Rep. Jeff Flake. Carmona, who was surgeon general under President George W. Bush, was recruited by President Obama to run for the Senate. Flake is a fiscal conservative who has earned a reputation for bucking his party.
Independent former governor Angus King started this race as the heavy favorite. Neither party put up any big-name opponents against him, and Democrats seemed to be hoping that he would win and caucus with them in the Senate. But negative GOP ads against King have moved Republican GOP Secretary of State Charlie Summers into serious contention.
This one is really close. Former state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp has turned into one of the best Democratic recruits of the year, putting in play a state that was thought to be solidly in the GOP’s column. The GOP nominee, freshman Rep. Rick Berg, isn’t getting such sterling reviews. Heitkamp’s early support for Obamacare has not hurt her much.
The shape of this race has changed a little in recent weeks, with polling showing Democrat Timothy M. Kaine jumping to an eight-point lead over former senator George Allen (R). The GOP plan was to attach Kaine to President Obama, but with polls showing the president a slight favorite to carry the state, that strategy has paid limited dividends.
This has been close from the beginning and is expected to stay that way. Sen. Jon Tester (D) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) have always been within a few points of each other. Republicans have tried to tie Tester to Obama, while Democrats have attacked Rehberg as a lobbyist and for suing his local fire department after a wildfire damaged his property.
Richard Mourdock’s upset of Sen. Richard G. Lugar in the state’s GOP Senate primary opened the door for Democrats in a state that is expected to go Republican at the presidential level. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) has won in a tough House district before. If the GOP somehow finds a way to lose this one, it can likely say goodbye to its majority hopes.
The country’s most high-profile Senate race pits former Obama adviser Elizabeth Warren (D), a liberal hero, against Sen. Scott Brown (R), a popular senator with a moderate, everyman vibe. For a while, Brown’s appeal seemed to be winning the day. But this is Massachusetts, and his party affiliation is a liability. Recent polls show Warren with a small edge.
Former GOP governor Tommy Thompson’s attempted political comeback was looking good until a few weeks ago. He survived a tough primary and was leading Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) in early general election polls. But as President Obama has risen in the polls here, so has Baldwin. Look for Republicans to focus on Baldwin’s record as one of the most liberal members of Congress.
Appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R) appears to be a slight favorite to retain the seat forfeited by disgraced former senator John Ensign (R), but it won’t be easy. But Nevada is a swing state at the presidential level, and Democratic nominee Shelley Berkley is a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D), who will do plenty to help her down the stretch.
Linda McMahon (R) is a different candidate from two years ago, when she lost an open-seat contest by double digits. Almost every recent poll shows a close race with Rep. Chris Murphy (D), despite Connecticut’s Democratic tendencies. But for McMahon, whose wrestling empire has been tainted by scandal, the game is to build a personal brand separate from her wrestling identity.