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Fight for Senate Hinges on Six White House Battlegrounds

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A veteran of two tours of duty with the Marines in Iraq, Mandel served first as a city councilman near Cleveland and then in the state Legislature before being elected treasurer in 2010. A conservative Republican from liberal Cuyahoga County, Mandel is a fundraising machine and an aggressive campaigner. But Brown knows the state well and has proved to be a strong vote-getter over the years. Whether Brown’s liberalism will be a problem in 2012 is an open question.

The one race where the Republican should have the edge is Virginia.

Republican George Allen lost re-election in 2006 in a perfect storm of bad news and bad circumstances. Not only was President George W. Bush and the GOP Congress unpopular, but Allen shot himself in the foot by referring to a Democratic video tracker as “macaca,” a term that proved to be not merely unflattering but offensive. Allen’s Democratic challenger in that race was a former Republican who lacked a legislative record and ran on a message of change.

But with Sen. Jim Webb (D) not seeking re-election, Democrats have turned to former Gov. Tim Kaine to hold the open seat. Kaine was at one time a popular governor with a reputation for moderation. But his standing with voters fell toward the end of his term as the economy dipped, and his role as chairman of the Democratic National Committee (from 2009 to the spring of 2011) makes it all but impossible for him to separate himself from the president.

The very different environments of 2006 and 2012, to say nothing of the candidates, should improve Republican prospects in Virginia, and the elections of 2009 and 2010 in the commonwealth have proved that there is still plenty of Republican firepower in the state, including in the northern suburbs.

Two states remain: Nevada and Wisconsin.

Nevada will see Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley face off against appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R). A Berkley win in a GOP-held seat would be a huge development, affecting the net change of the election.

Polling shows the race even, and the outcome could well turn on the size of Hispanic turnout, Berkley’s ability to sell outside her Las Vegas base and the extent to which voters, angry at the national and local economic downturn — and particularly the state’s dismal real estate market — choose to send a message of dissatisfaction to Obama and candidates from his party.

Finally, Wisconsin looks like something of a head-scratcher. Neither of the two current leaders in the GOP race, former Gov. Tommy Thompson and former Rep. Mark Neumann, has knock-your-socks-off appeal, while Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin has put together a record that only residents of Madison may truly love.

With the state torn apart by partisanship and anger, tight presidential and Senate contests are expected next year.

Democratic control of the Senate after next year’s elections is very much in doubt. In fact, Republicans have better than a coin flip chance of getting to 51 seats. But much depends on the presidential race, including who gets the GOP’s nomination, and the six states where the fight for the White House and the fight for the Senate overlap.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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