Recent developments have provided Democrats with increased hope for this November. Yet control of the Senate in 2013 remains in doubt.
National Journal periodically polls political insiders about their predictions. In September 2011, 79% of about 90 Republican political pros polled thought there was a “high probability” that their party would take control of the Senate. At the end of last month, only four percent of the GOP insiders were now so optimistic.
Politico pointed out on September 30: “Five weeks from Election Day, both parties jousting for control of the Senate face a stark fact: Neither has yet locked down races that should have been put away by now. That means the Senate map has gotten bigger, not smaller, leaving races from New England to the Upper Plains to the Southwest all in play.”
There are three Senate seats in Maine, Missouri and Indiana that Republicans had counted in the win column at the beginning of the year, but instead have provided nasty surprises.
After the surprise retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) in Maine, independent former Gov. Angus King is slightly favored to win over a Republican and a Democrat
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, given up almost for dead months ago, has moved into a narrow lead in Missouri over Rep. Todd Akin (R) after his shocking comments about “legitimate rape.”
In Indiana, Richard Mourdock (R), who easily defeated six-term Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in a primary, has struggled against Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) in a toss-up contest.
Two candidates in whom Republicans had high hopes faded during the campaign. Rep. Heather Wilson (R) was considered the strongest party nominee in New Mexico, but trails Rep. Martin Heinrich (D). The Republican Party has canceled ads in the state.
Former two-term Gov. Linda Lingle (R) was a great recruitment victory for Republicans in Hawaii, but she appears to be drowning in a Democratic tide led by homestate favorite, President Barack Obama. Rep. Mazie Hirono (D) is the clear front runner.
Several Democratic candidates who trailed or were even during the summer have now pulled into modest leads.
After trailing for many months, Elizabeth Warren (D) has moved ahead of Sen. Scott Brown (R) in perhaps the widely watched Senate contest in the nation.
Similarly Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) trailed former four-term Governor Tommy Thompson (R) in Wisconsin but now has moved into a narrow lead.
In Virginia, former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) and former Sen. George Allen (R) were tied in the polls for many months before Kaine took a slender but consistent lead.
In three states, Republicans thought that the statewide lean toward their party would carry their candidates to victory, but strong Democratic candidates have kept the contests even.
Montana’s Sen. Jon Tester (D) won a close contest six years ago and is in a tight contest against Rep. Denny Rehberg (R).
The GOP had already put the North Dakota Senate race in their pocket after the announced retirement of Sen. Kent Conrad (D), but Heidi Heitkamp (D) has proved the equal of Rep. Rick Berg (R) thus far.
Few political observers expected the Republican primary winner in Arizona, Rep. Jeff Flake (R) to have problems, but he is only even with political newcomer Dr. Richard Carmona (D).
Republicans thought they could unseat several Democratic incumbents, but find themselves trailing in each race, although not by insurmountable numbers.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has maintained a solid lead against ex-Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R).
Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is the only remaining Democratic statewide official in Florida, but Rep. Connie Mack (R) has found him more formidable than expected.
Super PACs have poured almost $20 million into Ohio to defeat Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), but find Brown still maintaining his lead over state treasurer Josh Mandel (R)
Even in Nevada, an ethics issue had been thought to sink Rep. Shelley Berkley’s (D) candidacy, but she remains stubbornly close to incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R).
In the midst of this uniformly bad news, Republican have a few bright spots.
In Connecticut, Linda McMahon (R) lost for Senate two years ago in a great year for Republicans, but she is now running even with the Democratic nominee Rep. Chris Murphy (D).
In Maine, Secretary of State Charlie Summers (R) has pulled within shouting distance of Angus King (I).
There is a late surprise in Pennsylvania where first-term incumbent Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) beat incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum (R) by 18 percentage points in 2006. Four polls in the last two weeks have shown that Casey’s opponent, businessman Tom Smith (R), has pulled within as few as five points of Casey.
And in Nebraska, former Sen. Bob Kerry (D) has failed to close the distance with surprise Republican primary winner, State Sen. Deb Fischer.
The outlook: stay tuned on November 6.