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Parties Plot Path to 51 With Senate Field Set

Tom Williams/Roll Call
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (left), seen at an event Wednesday with Virginia Sens. Mark Warner (center) and Jim Webb, is the favorite to win the Senate race in November.

With the Senate playing field set after Tuesday’s primaries, operatives in both parties spent much of Wednesday taking stock of the landscape and adjusting their strategy accordingly for the last 47 days of the campaign.

Tuesday’s shocking result in Delaware, where GOP favorite Rep. Mike Castle was upset by Christine O’Donnell, makes the path to netting a 10-seat gain in November more difficult for Republicans. Party operatives Wednesday downplayed Delaware as the race that would be the difference between being the majority or minority party next year. Strategists argued they were facing long odds in winning all of this cycle’s competitive races even before the tea party-backed conservative O’Donnell won.

Democrats said the Delaware result further proves that even in a wave election year, Senate races must be looked at in a race-by-race manner. They argued the GOP would need to win states such as Connecticut and West Virginia — seats Democrats are favored to hold — to have a shot at taking control of the chamber.

While their path to 51 seats took a hit, GOP strategists said they are still confident about making major gains.

Republicans are favored to win at least three Democratic-held seats: those of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and retiring Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Byron Dorgan (N.D.). The Delaware seat would have been included in that list had Castle won Tuesday’s primary, and his upset pushes the party’s spotlight to more challenging races.

According to recent polling, Republicans have at least an even chance of winning the open seats in Illinois and Pennsylvania, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s seat in Nevada and Sen. Michael Bennet’s seat in Colorado. Those races, along with those in California, Washington and Wisconsin — three states where Democratic incumbents are vulnerable — mean that Republicans still have a path to netting 10 seats, even if it is an uphill climb.

Republicans are keeping their eyes on two more states that could be game-changers: the Connecticut race between Democrat Richard Blumenthal and Republican Linda McMahon, and the special election in West Virginia, where Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin is favored over Republican businessman John Raese. Both GOP candidates have the ability to self-fund, which could make the races interesting down the stretch.

As for Republicans, they have three open seats considered to be in jeopardy, and the loss of any one would pretty much ensure Democrats hold the Senate. In Missouri, Democrats think Secretary of State Robin Carnahan has a serious shot against Rep. Roy Blunt. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee went up with another TV ad there Wednesday, pushing the theme that Blunt has gone Washington.

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