The Fix: Republican wins give Democrats hope

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2010; 11:20 AM

A series of developments over the last month (or so) have brightened Democrats' hopes in a handful of Senate races -- although the overall national landscape suggests the party is still headed toward losses in the fall.

Recent Republican primaries have been good to Democrats. Victories by tea party backed candidates like Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky mean those seats, once considered off the radar, are now back in play.

Friday Line

In the Pennsylvania primary, Democrats won by losing. Sen. Arlen Specter (D) was a terrible profile for Democrats to try to hold the seat in the fall -- a long serving politician who had openly admitted to switching parties to preserve his chances at re-election. Rep. Joe Sestak, who ousted Specter on May 18, has a considerably better profile as a short timer in Congress -- he was first elected in 2006 -- with a deep military resume and strong outsider credentials.

Then there's Illinois, where Rep. Mark Kirk (R) continues to struggle to explain inconsistencies between his military resume and his military accomplishments. Prior to Kirk's resume problems, the race had been dominated (and not in a good way) by state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) and his family's failed bank. Now, Kirk has provided Democrats with plenty of ammunition to muddy the ethics waters.

All of the above is not to say that Republicans won't make Senate gains this fall. They will. And, they may well make significant gains -- including in places like Nevada, Pennsylvania and Illinois. But, Democrats' hand in each of those states has improved over the last month and given the party a path to victory that they may not have had before.

As always, the top ranked race on the Line is the most likely to switch parties in the fall. Kudos and critiques are welcome in the comments section.

To the Line!

Coming onto the Line: Ohio, Washington

Coming off the Line: Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire

10. Ohio (R): The Buckeye State Senate race got underway formally earlier this week when former Rep. Rob Portman (R) launched the first ad of the general election, a spot that touts him as an economic problem solver. Portman's financial advantage over Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher will allow him to have the airwaves to himself for some period of time but Democrats are confident (and Republicans are worried) that Portman's work as the U.S. Trade Representative in the Bush Administration is a silver bullet in this economically hard-up state. (Previous ranking: N/A)

9. Washington (D): Republicans got their best possible candidate against Sen. Patty Murray (D) when former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) announced -- just before the state's filing deadline -- that he would run. Rossi is no longer the fresh face he was when he nearly beat Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) in 2004 but he is a skilled candidate and a proven fundraiser. This is a real recruiting success for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. (Previous ranking: N/A)

8. Missouri (R): The Show Me State Senate race is one of the toughest in the country to get a handle on. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is touted by Democrats as one of their top -- if not their best -- recruits in the country. And, while Rep. Roy Blunt (R) has performed impressively on the fundraising front and is, by all accounts, a very savvy politician, he will have to defend his years as a member of the House Republican leadership team. Still, Missouri was the only targeted state in 2008 that went for Sen. John McCain (Ariz), a fact that suggests there is a considerable (and non-persuadable) Republican base in the state. (Previous ranking: 10)

7. Pennsylvania (D): Sestak's victory creates a fascinating general election matchup with former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) -- two iconoclastic Members who have built their reputations on doing things their own way. Toomey's may be the most underrated campaign in the country; with little fanfare or press attention he has not only moved to the middle ideologically but has also banked $4.6 million for the race ahead. Sestak's quirky appeal is not to be underestimated, however, particularly in an election cycle like this one where different is better in the eyes of voters. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Illinois (D): Kirk's inability to put out the fire caused by a discrepancy in his military resume suggests that the candidate, who, prior to this controversy, had run a flawless race, might not be so perfect after all. Combine Kirk's problems and those of Giannoulias, which are still significant and majorly problematic even though they haven't gotten much attention of late, and you have a recipe for what we believe will be the nastiest Senate race in the country this fall. (Previous ranking: 5)

5. Nevada (D): Angle's victory on Tuesday night puts Reid somewhere he hasn't been in a long time: in the game. Prior to Tuesday, it was almost impossible for a thinking person to carve out a path for Reid to re-election. Now, with Angle's controversial stands on a variety of issues, you can see how the Senate Majority Leader could turn the race into a choice rather than a referendum this fall. Still, and we can't emphasize this strongly enough, Reid has lingered in the low 40s in general election matchups (against Angle and everyone else) for the better part of the last year and his favorable ratings are still in the 30s. Not impressive for any politician -- particularly one who has spent as much time in office as Reid. (Previous ranking: 4)

4. Indiana (D): Democrats like their matchup in the Hoosier State: telegenic two-term Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) against former Senator (and lobbyist) Dan Coats (R). But President Obama's win in Indiana in the last presidential election belies the conservative nature of the state. Coats may not be the right profile for an outsider election like this one but he is running in the right state in the right year. (Previous ranking: 6)

3. Arkansas (D): Sen. Blanche Lincoln's (D) surprise runoff victory on Tuesday night over Lt. Gov. Bill Halter is almost certain to give her a temporary boost in her general election race against Rep. John Boozman (R). But, can Lincoln sustain that momentum for the next five months or so? Arkansas went strongly against President Obama in 2008 and stayed there. It's a tough road for Lincoln although she's already beat the political expectations game once in this election. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Delaware (D): Democrats like what they see from Newcastle County Executive Chris Coons. And, against most Republicans in the Democratic state of Delaware, Coons would be in the driver's seat. But, Republicans recruited Rep. Mike Castle, the popular moderate Congressman and former governor, as their nominee. Expect Coons to try to use Castle's long record of service in the state against him in this anti-incumbent year. But, Castle has used those years in office to build deep relationships across the state that will be hard for Coons to break. (Previous ranking: 3)

1. North Dakota (D): Sen. John Hoeven (R). (Previous ranking: 1)

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