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Senate Landscape Comes Into Clear Focus

Most Contests Set After Tuesday’s Primaries

Now that Super Duper Tuesday has come and gone, the 2010 Senate landscape is all but set.

Except for a pair of competitive primaries in New Hampshire and Colorado and a runoff in North Carolina, we know who most of the players will be and where the battles will take place in the fight for control of the Senate this cycle.

Ten or 11 Democratic seats are in play this fall, compared with just five or six for the GOP. That means Senate Republicans would need close to a clean sweep to gain a 51-seat majority. While that still appears to be a tall order, the GOP clearly has the opportunity to make significant gains in the Senate.

North Dakota and Delaware seem to be almost certain pickups for Republicans, and it’s hard to see how Democrats will be able to defend everything in a vast battleground that includes Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington and once-safe seats in California and Connecticut.

However, Republicans can’t spend all their time and effort on offense because they have several open seats that will require attention and resources in Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio. National Republicans will also have to make sure that Louisiana and North Carolina don’t slip into more competitive categories.

Interestingly, neither Republicans nor Democrats are entering the general election with the team that they set out to recruit at the beginning of the cycle.

It seems like so long ago that Democrats failed to entice Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden or North Carolina Rep. Bob Etheridge into making the leap to a Senate race. More recently, Democrats saw their favorite party switcher, Sen. Arlen Specter, fall in spectacular fashion in Pennsylvania’s primary last month.

The GOP field of candidates has undergone even more upheaval since the start of the cycle. Along with letting Rep. Dean Heller slip the recruiting hook, national Republicans witnessed the implosion of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s Republican bid, the rise of former Florida Speaker Marco Rubio, the unexpected excitement for Rand Paul in Kentucky and Sharron Angle in Nevada, and the candidacy of former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon in Connecticut.

But despite a national environment that appears certain to continue to favor Republicans this fall, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said he is optimistic coming out of Tuesday’s elections.

“Today is certainly a very good day for us,” he said. “A very strong incumbent won her election, and some of the worst Republican candidates won their elections.”

Menendez said Sen. Blanche Lincoln did more than simply run against Washington, D.C., in her Democratic runoff victory over Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. She demonstrated that she was “a true independent voice” for Arkansas and that, he said, will pay dividends in the general election.

Arkansas political consultant Bill Paschall agreed that Lincoln will likely employ the same formula that she used against Halter in the race against Rep. John Boozman (R).

“They were trying to create the sense and image that Blanche was beholden to no one but the people of Arkansas,” Paschall said. “Lincoln will continue some of the strategy she used with Halter and try to tie Boozman to special interests and try to make him the special interest candidate.”

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