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Delaware Aside, Shifts in Senate Field Favor GOP

Senate Democrats certainly got a boost this week with Rep. Michael N. Castle's stunning defeat in Delaware's GOP primary. But once the party's euphoria wears off in the First State, Democrats still have to face the reality that the national political environment is still tilted decidedly against them and several races around the country continue to shift in favor of Republicans.

After moving the rating of the Delaware contest to reflect Democrats' much improved prospects of holding the Senate seat, CQ Politics is moving the race ratings in a handful of other Senate contests in favor of the GOP. Three races -- in Florida, Kentucky and New Hampshire -- are being moved from Tossup to Leans Republican. The Arkansas Senate contest is being moved from Leans Republican to the less competitive category of Likely Republican and the West Virginia race is moving from Likely Democratic to the more competitive category of Leans Democratic.

Florida's race rating had been considered a Tossup due to what appeared to be the unexpected strength of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's Independent bid over the summer.

But following the state's Aug. 24 primaries, public polls have shown former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) steadily pulling away from Crist and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D).

The governor has near universal name recognition in the state, while Rubio and Meek are less well known. Crist has made no secret that he's looking to take votes from both Democrats and Republicans, but it increasingly looks unlikely that he can carve out enough votes in the center to win the three-way race. Republicans have focused most of their attention on painting the governor as a liberal in disguise. Meek, meanwhile, is touting himself as the only real Democrat in the race in an effort to prevent Crist from eating too far into the Democratic vote and becoming viewed as the de facto Democrat in the race. What appears likely is that Rubio will capture the lion's share of the Republican vote and also a portion of GOP-leaning independents. Meek will get the Democratic base vote and Crist will get more middle-of-the-road and Democratic-leaning Independents. That math adds up to a Rubio victory, which is what is being reflected in current polls.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, even Democratic polls are starting to show Republican Rand Paul pulling away from Democrat Jack Conway.

Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina-based firm with a stable of Democratic clients, released a survey last week that showed Paul up 7 points over Conway. Republicans are certainly sensing a growing opportunity in the Commonwealth and the National Republican Senatorial Committee targeted Conway in their first ad of the general election. Democrats argue that the NRSC's decision to go up early in Kentucky is a sign that they are concerned about holding the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R).

The conservative nature of Kentucky and favorable environment certainly give Republicans inherent advantages this cycle, but the race bears watching as Paul's propensity for making controversial statements could still cause a late shift in this contest.

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