NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MARCH 15: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivers remarks during the second day of the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) March 15, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland. The American conservative Union held its annual conference in the suburb of Washington, DC, to rally conservatives and generate ideas. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The contest for control of the Senate is beginning to take shape. Republicans are well positioned to take the majority, but they should not start measuring the drapes in the majority leader’s offices months before the first votes are cast.

In the GOP primaries, no tea party challenger has really caught fire. In the latest debacle, the local media is pummeling Sen. Thad Cochran’s challenger, Chris McDaniel, over remarks he made while a radio talk show host. The Clarion Ledger reports: “Political blogs at the Wall Street Journal, Politico and Esquire are tee-ing off on comments Republican U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel made when he hosted ‘The Right Side’ talk radio show from 2004-2007. He’s caught flak before, over comments he had made about hip-hop and rap. . .  [and] (having listened to the show back in the day, I can tell ’em, there’s probably a lot more where that came from).” I asked McDaniel’s spokesman if McDaniel would ask that all the tapes of his shows be released. He refused to respond. If he doesn’t, that will leave GOP voters in the dark and potentially allow Democrats to ferret out more embarrassing clips should he be the nominee.

In Kansas, South Carolina and Kentucky, GOP incumbents are running away with it, while the most electable mainstream Republican in North Carolina, Thom Tillis, leads the GOP field, including the besieged tea party favorite Chris Brannon.

Turning to the general election, for the Democratic-held seats in West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota, the GOP nominee each has a double-digit lead.

The Democratic candidates are behind or have only a single-digit lead against the top challengers in the RealClearPolitics averages in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Alaska, Michigan, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire. Although the GOP has very viable Republicans in Minnesota, Oregon and Virginia, the Democratic incumbent still leads comfortably.

In GOP-held seats, the Republican front-runners in Georgia’s primary, David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), each lead Democrat Michelle Nunn narrowly, although if one of these nominee is selected, conservatives probably will coalesce around that candidate and widen the race. In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is essentially in a dead heat with Alison Lundergan Grimes, although he too (especially with the prospect of his ascension to majority leader) is likely to pull ahead after the May primary.

There is no doubt that the Republicans are well positioned to win the Senate, but in most Democratic-held seats, the races are very, very close and may remain so down the stretch. That means how the candidates run, how Obamacare pans out, how the economy does and how enthusiastic the parties’ bases are will decide the races. The trouble for Democrats is that with three easy pickups for the GOP, they cannot lose more than two net seats. That is a very tall order.