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Reading the Tea Leaves: How the Senate Could Look

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester (above) is running a strong campaign but is facing a tough challenger in Rep. Denny Rehberg.

If Republicans win the majority Nov. 6, that victory is likely to be narrow — in the realm of one to three seats. There are multiple scenarios for such an outcome, but most would probably include defeating Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) while winning the Republican open seats in Nebraska and North Dakota. Those are the party’s top four opportunities to play offense.

Under this particular scenario — which assumes that Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) loses and former Gov. Angus King (I) wins the open Maine seat and caucuses with the Democrats — the Republicans would need to capitalize on a couple of other existing pickup opportunities.

One way to do this would be to win two out of four Democratic-held seats in Virginia, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Ohio. If Republicans did this, they would achieve a
51-49 majority.

All four are winnable, but under the scenario envisioned here, Republicans pick up the open seats in Virginia and Wisconsin, with New Mexico Rep. Martin Heinrich (D) able to hold on in a tough race with former Rep. Heather Wilson (R) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) winning in a tossup presidential state against Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel (R).

Virginia might be the state most closely tied to the presidential election, especially with former Gov. Tim Kaine’s most recent post as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. As well-known as both former governors are, it’s likely a George Allen (R) win means presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney also prevailed in the Old Dominion.

A Republican win in Wisconsin, meanwhile, would mean that the GOP nominee chosen in the upcoming
Aug. 14 primary was successful in branding Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) as too liberal. Wisconsin voted out three-term Democrat Russ Feingold in 2010 and refused to recall Gov. Scott Walker (R) in June.

This GOP takeover scenario also assumes that the Republicans are able to hold Nevada, currently a tossup race between appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D), as well as the less competitive seats in Indiana and Arizona.

If the Republicans do win Montana, it probably means that Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) was able to tie Tester to President Barack Obama and the Democratic agenda Tester supported over the past six years.

It would also mean that Tester’s multitude of ads featuring him working on his farm and the ads tying Rehberg to national Republicans were not enough to withstand the barrage of outside spending in this relatively inexpensive state.

In North Dakota, a GOP victory would probably mean that former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D) was competitive but unable to overcome the state’s Republican lean. Gravy for the Republicans would be a win by former Gov. Linda Lingle (R) in Obama’s native Hawaii, but her loss doesn’t affect Republicans’ ability to win the Senate.

Scenario 3: Tied Senate

It is completely within the realm of possibility that each party will end election night with 50 Senate seats.

This scenario would add even more intrigue and consequence to the presidential contest, with Vice President Joseph Biden or presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s vice president providing the tie-breaking vote in the Senate possibly for the next two years.

Here is one of a number of ways split Senate control could happen.

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