Six months ago, the 2010 Senate battlefield looked relatively bare, with a few obvious skirmishes mostly in states with GOP incumbents. Three months later, the outlook had brightened dramatically for Democrats, largely the result of a number of GOP retirements and solid Democratic recruiting on those open seats.
But now, as the dog days of summer begin, the landscape has shifted again, this time improving significantly for Republicans.
Democrats no longer have the momentum they once possessed. Even more important, signs of some Democratic vulnerability have appeared, giving the National Republican Senatorial Committee opportunities to shoot at, rather than forcing it to play an entirely defensive game, as it has the past two cycles.
Fifteen months before the midterms, Democrats have major problems in two states Illinois and Connecticut while a third, Nevada, remains a potential headache. Republicans, on the other hand, have serious vulnerabilities in four states Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio and potential problems in two others. But of late, even those Republican vulnerabilities look less daunting than they once did.
The announcement by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) that she will seek re-election rather than run for the Senate (or governor) immediately boosted Republican prospects in what remains a very difficult state for the GOP. But Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) should be a formidable candidate, while Democrats have a field that is less than intimidating.
And in Connecticut, veteran Sen. Chris Dodd (D) has aired multiple TV ads in an attempt to remind Constitution State voters what he has accomplished and what he stands for an open acknowledgment that he has work to do to repair his image. Republicans now worry that Dodd, who just announced he will have surgery for prostate cancer, will retire rather than seek re-election, thereby damaging their prospects of winning the seat.
Democrats have two formidable candidates in Kentucky, while Republicans recently received a gift from Sen. Jim Bunning (R) when the endangered two-term incumbent announced that he would not seek a third term. That means Secretary of State Trey Grayson will likely be the GOP nominee, dramatically increasing the chances that Republicans can retain the seat.
Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) is moving toward a Senate bid in the Granite States open-seat contest, and while she is not yet a proven campaigner, insiders who know her speak effusively about her abilities and appeal. Democrats once viewed their likely nominee, Rep. Paul Hodes, as a solid favorite to win the seat, but the race now looks like a tossup, at best, for Democrats.
Meanwhile President Barack Obamas sliding popularity is at least a troubling sign for Democrats in both Missouri and Ohio, where Republican Senate candidates may benefit from the publics growing concerns about federal spending, possible tax hikes and bigger government.