“While Republicans may have an opportunity to take back the Senate, this thing is a lot closer than anyone wants to admit,” Poersch said.
Massachusetts is the Democratic Party’s best opportunity to pick up a seat, but consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren must prove her chops as a candidate against Sen. Scott Brown, who has a lengthy head start on fundraising and strong approval ratings. Warren’s third-quarter report will be one to watch, even though she’s had just a few weeks to raise money.
Beyond Massachusetts and Nevada, which is a pure tossup, there are only a couple of second-tier pickup opportunities for Democrats. They include Arizona, where a few candidates are emerging but will face a tough opponent in Rep. Jeff Flake, and Indiana. For now, Republicans are favored to hold Indiana, but that could change if Sen. Dick Lugar loses the GOP nomination to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
Mourdock has received endorsements from the Tea Party Express and tea party favorite Sharron Angle, but his fundraising was dwarfed through June by the six-term incumbent. His next report will indicate whether he’s catching up or falling further behind Lugar. Democrats would feel better about the race if Mourdock is Rep. Joe Donnelly’s (D) opponent, but it would remain a tough race given Indiana’s Republican lean.
In Florida, observers will look to see who has the fundraising edge in the GOP primary now that state Senate President Mike Haridopolos is no longer in the race. He dropped out shortly after posting $2.8 million in cash on hand at the end of June, a figure well ahead of former Sen. George LeMieux and former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner.
They’re running to take on Sen. Bill Nelson (D), who could be in far better shape than it appeared at the start of the cycle if none of the remaining Republicans receive a surge of excitement and money. Florida is among the most expensive and culturally diverse states of the 2012 battleground.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), running in a state with more affordable media markets, will be a top GOP target regardless of her opponent, who won’t be known for 10 months. St. Louis businessman John Brunner is expected to enter the race today, joining Akin and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman.
Along with McCaskill, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson is one of the most vulnerable Democrats. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) has long been the favorite to take him on, but the outcome of the GOP primary could be in doubt if state Treasurer Don Stenberg, who’s earned recent tea-party-affiliated endorsements, including one from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), can pick up the fundraising pace.
Another top target for the NRSC is Sen. Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, where many strategists will be waiting to see former Rep. Pete Hoekstra’s third-quarter fundraising totals. Hoekstra is the favored candidate of the GOP establishment in Washington, D.C., and in Michigan, although he still must win a primary next year.