The six seats most likely to flip party control in our newest Fix rankings of the Senate are controlled by Democrats, meaning that Republicans are poised to pick up the seats they need to retake control of the upper chamber in three weeks.
Two open Democratic seats — Montana and West Virginia — seem like certain GOP pickups. South Dakota’s open seat, meanwhile, still favors former governor Mike Rounds (R), but the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s decision to pump $1 million into the state suggests that it sees a path, most likely with Democratic-friendly former GOP senator Larry Pressler, who is running as an independent.
The next three seats feature Democratic incumbents — Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska) — running in states unfriendly to their party. All three remain viable, but polling suggests that momentum in each of the races is with their Republican opponents, thanks in large part to the unpopularity of President Obama and the national Democratic Party.
Win those six seats, and Republicans have the majority. Unless, that is, they lose in Kansas — a real possibility — where independent Greg Orman and Sen. Pat Roberts (R) are locked in a tight race. (It’s not clear whom Orman would caucus with if he won. Some have reported that Orman would caucus with the majority party, but he has been purposely vague.)
While GOP fortunes in Kansas and once-top-targeted North Carolina are looking surprisingly iffy, the movement of Colorado and Iowa in Republicans’ favor over the past few weeks could allow the party to absorb losses in those unexpected places. Rep. Cory Gardner (R) in Colorado and state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) in Iowa have the momentum in their races.
Once you get beyond those top nine races, though, the pickings get slimmer. Yes, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C) could lose, but her resiliency suggests that probably won’t happen. Democrats still hold out hope that Kentucky and Georgia could be pickup opportunities — and they might — but neither are top-tier at this point.
Below are the 13 most competitive races in the country as of today. The most likely seat to switch is ranked No. 1.
13. Kentucky (Republican-controlled): Democrats got excited about an automated poll last week that showed Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) leading by two points. Besides that poll, though, the past 11 public surveys showed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) leading by two to eight points.
12. New Hampshire (Democratic-controlled): Polls show Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) ahead, but former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown (R) remains within striking distance. Republicans credit Brown’s tireless effort on the campaign trail for keeping him in the mix. But Shaheen’s made no major missteps.
11. Georgia (R): Polling puts businessman David Perdue (R) with a slight edge over Michelle Nunn (D), but he’s not all that close to 50 percent. Nunn’s best and probably only chance is to win outright Nov. 4; a Jan. 6 runoff, if no one gets 50 percent plus one on Election Day, would probably favor Perdue no matter what happens nationally.
10. North Carolina (D): Hagan continues to hold on to a small but steady lead in her race against state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R). The problem for Tillis is that, unlike other Republican-leaning states hosting key Senate races this cycle, North Carolina hasn’t turned into a straight referendum on Obama. Instead, some of the controversial actions — especially on education — by the state legislature over the past few years have made it harder to keep the spotlight off the Republican brand.
9. Colorado (D): Gardner is ascendant in the race and is looking more like a favorite. Polls from Fox News and Quinnipiac in recent weeks have put Gardner up six and eight points, respectively. Suffolk University, meanwhile, had Sen. Mark Udall (D) within a point.
8. Iowa (D): Remember the days when there were doubts about whether Ernst could raise money? Those days are over. She hauled in $6 million in the third quarter, outraising Rep. Bruce Braley (D). Braley’s saving grace may be the well-funded Democratic cavalry that has come in to help him on the airwaves, though that may not be enough to overcome the image that he is out of touch with rural Iowans.
7. Kansas (R): Polls this week by CNN and Fox News had Roberts ahead by one and five points, respectively, over Orman. This is still quite a worrisome race for Republicans though, and they’re bringing out all the big guns for Roberts — including Bob Dole, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.).
6. Alaska (D): Everyone agrees that Begich has run a serious and credible campaign. Everyone also agrees that Alaska is a very hard state for a Democrat — any Democrat — to win. And former state attorney general Dan Sullivan has turned out to be a better-than-expected candidate. Polling suggests that it is Sullivan’s race to lose, but polling in Alaska is notoriously difficult, and Democrats believe their ground game might save Begich.
5. Arkansas (D): Former president Bill Clinton was in the state last week to stump for Pryor and other Democrats. Every time Clinton comes home, he’s received as political royalty. But is that enough to save Democrats in a state that has been trending increasingly Republican for years?
4. Louisiana (D): Landrieu just replaced her campaign manager. With less than four weeks until Election Day and about two months until a likely Dec. 6 runoff date with Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), that’s not a good sign.
3. South Dakota (D): A SurveyUSA poll showed Rounds at 35 percent, Pressler, the independent, at 32 percent and Democrat Rick Weiland at 28 percent. Rounds is taking on water, but the state still favors his party.
2. West Virginia (D): Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) has run a respectable race. But she is never going to beat Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R), a strong candidate, in a year that favors Republicans nationally and in a state where Obama is persona non grata.
1. Montana (D): If you’re looking for a sure bet, Montana is the closest thing you are going to find on the Senate map. Rep. Steve Daines (R) is headed for an easy win over state Rep. Amanda Curtis (D).