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At the dawn of the election year, Senate Republicans feel a renewed sense of optimism in their fight to net the six seats necessary to win the majority in 2014.
The stumbling rollout of Obamacare has given the GOP hope it can loosen the Democrats’ grip on the majority by ousting its four most vulnerable incumbents.
Still, several factors could influence how things appear in the final months of President Barack Obama’s second midterm cycle. And Democrats have proved in recent years they know how to win tough Senate races.
Will the Obamacare implementation improve? Will the economy rebound? How big of a fight will Republicans put up over the debt ceiling? And how about the GOP’s pesky primaries?
These unknowns are why optimism — but not overconfidence — is the overriding feeling among the Senate GOP.
“I’m more bullish about the GOP’s chances in the Senate now than I have been at any point this cycle,” said Dan Judy, a pollster at GOP firm North Star Opinion Research. “The shutdown seems like a distant memory and the Ryan/Murray deal went a long way to settling things down so that our guys can really focus on the midterms.”
Meanwhile, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake cited GOP primary issues, well-prepared candidates and demographic changes among the reason for Democrats’ positive outlook, even as Obama’s approval ratings hover in the low 40s.
The GOP’s own unpopularity “gives these senators the ability to individually define their opponents, and Senate races have the kind of money necessary to individualize,” Lake said.
Here is a rundown of the competitive Senate playing field as it stands today, with Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call race ratings:Most Vulnerable Incumbents Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska
The late Aug. 19 primary gives the eventual GOP nominee less than three months to focus solely on Begich. Former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan is outraising his opponents, and a super PAC backing him just launched its first ads against Begich.
Rating: Tossup/Tilt DemocratSen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
Democrats are defending Pryor in part by defining Republican Rep. Tom Cotton as a “reckless and irresponsible” alternative. The state is trending Republican, and Cotton has the support of both the national party and conservative outside groups.
Rating: Tossup/Tilt RepublicanSen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The Senate minority leader faces opponents on his right and left. Before taking on Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell must first dispense with Republican businessman Matt Bevin, who is supported by conservative outside groups.
Rating: Lean RepublicanSen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La.