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Senate Math Not So Simple

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Massachusetts is the Democratic Party’s best opportunity to pick up a seat, but Sen. Scott Brown has a lengthy head start on fundraising and strong approval ratings.

The conventional wisdom is that odds favor Republicans winning control of the Senate next year. But an examination of the 2012 landscape at the end of the third quarter shows the chamber’s majority could go either way.

The overall numbers favor Republicans — Democrats are defending 23 seats to the GOP’s 10 — but controlling at least 50 seats may once again hinge on how some primaries shake out.

Several races still have maturing to do, and the third-quarter reports due Oct. 15 will offer the latest clues about the Republican primaries in states such as Indiana, Missouri and Florida, where the nomination is up for grabs. It will be months before GOP nominees are selected in those states, and in some cases, the primary winner could change the race’s outlook.

Despite that uncertainty, there are more than enough vulnerable Democratic seats to give National Republican Senatorial Committee strategists several paths to the majority. Winning Missouri, Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota would be enough, and there are plenty of opportunities with varying degrees of likelihood beyond those.

Other certain Senate battlegrounds next year include Wisconsin, Montana, Ohio and Virginia, where fundraising isn’t expected to be an issue for any of the top candidates. All are Democratic-held seats — as are most of the top races.

It’s highly likely that the GOP will pick up North Dakota’s open seat. But Republicans have a couple of tossup races of their own to defend in Massachusetts and Nevada. Losses there would complicate the math and help the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hold the Senate, barely, for a second straight cycle. Nomination surprises last cycle helped keep Republicans from winning seats in Nevada, Colorado and Delaware, giving Democrats a 53-47 edge in the 112th Congress.

As for the Senate campaign committees, there may still be some recruiting to do for the NRSC, which lacks top-tier candidates in competitive states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as well as against Sen. Bob Menendez in New Jersey. But for both committees, the top priority at this point is stocking up on cash for independent expenditures next fall, former NRSC Political Director Chris LaCivita said.

LaCivita, who works for Rep. Todd Akin’s Senate campaign in Missouri and former WWE CEO Linda McMahon’s campaign in Connecticut, said President Barack Obama will be a drag on the ticket in states across the country.

“What we encountered in 2006 and 2008, the Democrats got a taste of in 2010,” he said. “Now they’re going to get the full sample in 2012.”

J.B. Poersch, managing director at SKDKnickerbocker and a former DSCC executive director, said the 2012 map looks far better for Democrats when it’s sized down.

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