With six weeks to go, the fight for control of the Senate is down to five states, four of them currently held by Democratic senators.
Republicans must win only two of those contests to guarantee the 51 seats they need to control the Senate for the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. And they need to win only one of the Democratic states if they hold onto the only GOP seat at serious risk.
While things could still change — and national polls continue to show an environment that may produce a substantial GOP wave in the House and Senate — the Senate battle has boiled down to two reliably red states and three swing states.
While you can find Democrats spinning a yarn about how their party could pull off an upset in a multi-candidate race in South Dakota, that state, plus West Virginia and Montana, look poised to flip to the GOP in November.
Two Southern Democrats, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor and Louisiana’s Mary L. Landrieu, have run aggressive races as they try to survive the Republican wave that has swept over their states during the past four years. But Arkansas Republican Rep. Tom Cotton has finally opened up a small but decisive lead in his race, a lead likely to grow in the coming weeks.
The Louisiana contest will probably go to a December runoff, and while runoffs are unpredictable, the almost certain GOP alternative to Landrieu in that race, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, has the advantage.
If they win both races, Republicans need to net only one more seat to win Senate control, with the focus, at least right now, on Alaska, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa and Kansas.
Mark Begich is widely credited with running the best Democratic race in the country, and he may be ahead of challenger Dan Sullivan by a couple of points. But Begich remains well under the 50 percent mark, and Alaska’s strongly Republican bent means the senator has no room for error.
North Carolina is proving to be a major headache for the GOP. Not nearly as red as Alaska — Obama carried it narrowly in 2008 before losing it narrowly in 2012 — Republican challenger Thom Tillis appears to be trailing Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by more than a couple of points.
Democrats have poured resources into this race, and by November they are likely to have outspent Tillis, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and GOP-allied groups by $7 million.
Colorado remains extremely competitive, and Democrats must be concerned their attacks on Rep. Cory Gardner on cultural issues did not destroy his campaign. But Gardner’s positive personality and more moderate message, combined with a fumble here and there by Sen. Mark Udall, has clearly made this a key contest.
Some observers seem to think Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley has grabbed the momentum in Iowa. But while Democrats obviously have stopped the bleeding in the Hawkeye State, the contest certainly looks like a tossup. That may be different from six weeks ago, when Republican Joni Ernst appeared to have the momentum, but it’s also very different than a year ago, when Democrats were oozing confidence in Braley.
The fifth decisive race looks to be Kansas, where Republican Sen. Pat Roberts appears to be trailing Independent Greg Orman by anywhere from a couple of points to a half-dozen.