The Fix: Senate, Friday Line

Fundraising crunch time: 8 Senate candidates with something to prove

Second-quarter fundraising reports are due next weekend, and candidates are likely to start announcing their totals in the days to come.

With Senate races starting to take shape in several key states — particularly ones where the primary has been held — these reports are the most important to date, the second-to-last quarterly reports we’ll see before the election. Essentially: We’re getting into crunch time.

So who has the most to prove?

Below, we take a look at eight that have plenty at stake in their second-quarter reports (followed by what we think is a reasonable goal for each of them)...

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The three questions that will decide the 2012 Senate race

The U.S. Senate is very much in play in the 2012 election.

In fact, it’s so much in play that Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, recently remarked that there was a 50 percent chance Republicans will reclaim the chamber.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) speaks during a roundtable discussion on the campus of the University of Central Missouri, in Warrensburg, Mo. (Julie Denesha - FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
To us, that seems about right. While Republicans’ chances were certainly better before Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) announced her retirement and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) lost his primary, they’ve still got a great shot at winning the four seats (or three, if they win the presidency) to effectively control the Senate.

But with upwards of a dozen or more races looking potentially competitive right now, paying attention to every race is nearly impossible.

So The Fix, in true Fix fashion, has distilled the battle for the Senate down to three key questions, after the jump.

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What swing states? Senate majority hinges on red states and blue states

We live in a hyper-nationalized political environment these days, in which a Senate candidate’s prospects in a presidential election year depend heavily on how their party’s presidential nominee performs.

And yet, in 2012, the battle for control of the Senate will be fought largely outside the swing states.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) speaks to the media after he was sworn in to be the newest member in the U.S. Senate in February 2010 (Alex Wong — Getty Images)
Of the 10 Senate races rated as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report, only two take place in bona fide swing states — Nevada and Virginia — with the possible addition of Wisconsin (which hasn’t gone Republican in the last five presidential races but was close in 2004).

Almost all of the other toss-up races, meanwhile, will take place in either very blue states — Hawaii, Maine and Massachusetts — or pretty red states — Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile big-time swing states — Florida, Ohio and to a lesser extent Michigan and Pennsylvania — are considered a part of the second tier of races. In other words, if the GOP wins these seats, they’ve definitely re-taken a majority in the Senate.

So what does this mean for the race going forward?

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Tea Party faces a turning point in 2012 Senate races

The tea party referendum has officially begun.

Despite the success of tea party candidates all over the country in 2010, many top GOP Senate candidates have avoided the same kind of tough insider-outsider primary matchups that made the summer of 2010 so
Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) faces a tough primary challenge. (J. Scott Applewhite - AP Photo)
interesting. The latest is New Mexico Republican Heather Wilson, a moderate whose more-conservative opponent dropped out of the race this week.

But that doesn’t mean the tea party doesn’t have its chances this year.

The Club for Growth’s endorsement of Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock over Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) this week cements that race as the biggest tea party-versus-establishment Senate contest of the cycle. And it may set the tone for the rest of the year.

But there are six other tea party-versus-establishment races worth keeping an eye on. The Fix looks at each of them in chronological order.

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Could 2012 be the most competitive Senate election in years?

Twenty Senate seats have changed hands since 2006, the most competitive back-to-back-to-back election cycles since the 1940s. And it might only get more competitive in 2012.

The nature of the map and the high number of quality candidates who have stepped forward in the first year of the 2012 election cycle could put upwards of half of the 33 Senate seats in play.
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) waits for a hearing of the Senate Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security subcommittee hearing at historic Faneuil Hall in Boston in June. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Already, the Cook Political Report lists 10 Senate races as toss-ups — more than at this point in the 2010, 2008 or 2006 elections. Cook also rates 21 races as being at least somewhat competitive at this point, which is at least five more than any of the three preceding elections.

And if the Senate is indeed at stake — Republicans need to gain three seats for a tie and four for the majority — it appears as though it won’t be decided in just a couple states, but rather by competitive races all over the country.

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