The Fourteen Key Senate Races

Since venturing into 2014, a new round of US Senate polls came into the public domain giving us a better picture of the current state of political affairs. Now it appears that 14 seats can be considered competitive, or are on their way to becoming so. The early tightness of so many of these campaigns tells us that we are a long way from being able to confidently predict a national outcome.

For Republicans, the first step in achieving their goal of capturing the Senate majority revolves around the ability to convert the three seats from retiring Democratic senators in states that normally elect GOP candidates. Winning the Montana (Rep. Steve Daines), South Dakota (ex-Gov. Mike Rounds), and West Virginia (Rep. Shelley Moore Capito) seats becomes the foundation for the Republican drive to obtain Senate control. Democrats, on the other hand, need merely to re-elect their incumbents.

As we know, the Senate’s partisan division features 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans. If we remove the 14 competitive seats from the picture, the number of safe Democratic and Republican seats recede to 43. If the three aforementioned open seat projections are correct, then the Republicans would need to win five additional seats (of the remaining 11) to obtain the majority, while the Democrats must claim seven.

Below is a description of the succeeding 11 seats and their latest polling information:

Alaska – Sen. Mark Begich (D): The most recent Alaska public survey released here was conducted in September (Harper Polling). It showed Sen. Begich only leading Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) 43-42 percent, and former Attorney General Dan Sullivan (R) 43-41 percent.

Arkansas – Sen. Mark Pryor (D): Two December polls produced quite different results, but Sen. Pryor’s best standing only brings him into a tie with Rep. Tom Cotton. The Polling Company numbers gave Rep. Cotton a 48-41 percent advantage. Public Policy Polling found both candidates deadlocked at 44 percent.

Colorado – Sen. Mark Udall (D): A surprising December Public Policy Polling survey posted Sen. Udall to only a 46-42 percent advantage over Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, the 2010 US Senate Republican nominee who lost to Sen. Michael Bennet (D).

Georgia – Open Seat (R): In good news for Democrats, a new PPP survey found consensus Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn leading all of the prospective Republican candidates from one to four points.

Iowa –
Open Seat (D): Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley appears to be in favorable position to hold the retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D) seat, but the data still suggests the race could become highly competitive. The last recorded poll here was released in July. Braley enjoyed approximately 10-point leads over the three Republican candidates, but all are unknown. He scored consistently in the low 40s, meaning the eventual Republican nominee could make things interesting.

Kentucky – Sen. Mitch McConnell (R): The data hasn’t changed much in months, and the new late January survey from Public Policy Polling continues to find the Minority Leader ahead by just a single point (45-44 percent) over Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D). Democrats winning either here or in Georgia would be a major boost to their prospects of retaining the majority.

Louisiana – Sen. Mary Landrieu (D): A brand new survey from Rasmussen Reports shows Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) moving, for the first time, into the lead over Sen. Landrieu. According to their late January results, Cassidy out-polled Landrieu 44-40 percent.

Michigan – Open Seat (D): As has been the early polling pattern in the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, consensus Republican nominee Terri Lynn Land maintains a slight and surprising advantage over Detroit Rep. Gary Peters. The mid-January Rasmussen Reports survey posted Ms. Land to a 37-35 percent edge.

New Hampshire – Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D): Two new surveys find a proposed race between Sen. Shaheen and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) to be getting much closer. In early January, Public Policy Polling forecast a three-point 46-43 percent lead for Sen. Shaheen. Purple Strategies, in their poll conducted two weeks ago, found the two locked in a 44-44 percent tie.

North Carolina – Sen. Kay Hagan (D): The latest surveys are returning consistently bad news for first-term Sen. Hagan, as she continues to trail a series of Republican candidates with little or no name identification. The early January PPP survey posted Hagan behind four GOP candidates from one to two points. Rasmussen Reports, in a late January poll, projected NC House Speaker Thom Tillis to be expanding his lead all the way to seven points, 47-40 percent.

Virginia – Sen. Mark Warner (D): The entrance of former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie will likely make this race competitive. Though the first campaign poll from Rasmussen Reports and Christopher Newport University yielded Warner leads of 14 and 20 points, respectively, Virginia’s political nature and Gillespie’s ability to run a strong race will likely bring this contest into the realm of serious competition. Sen. Warner will continue to be favored, however.

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