The GOP is in very good shape in many of the competitive races this year, with pickups likely in open seat races in Delaware (Mike Castle), North Dakota (John Hoeven), Indiana (Dan Coats), and Arkansas (John Boozman well ahead of Senator Blanche Lincoln). The GOP is also ahead in the open seat race in Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey with a near ten-point edge against Joe Sestak) and narrowly in Colorado (John Buck against appointed Senator Michael Bennett).
A new poll out gives Republican challenger Dino Rossi a seven-point lead in Washington state versus Senator Patty Murray, after a Rasmussen survey gave Murray a four-point lead a day earlier. The GOP candidate is running even with the Democratic candidate in the open seat races in Illinois (Mark Kirk versus Alexi Giannoulias), Wisconsin (Rob Johnson challenging Senator Russ Feingold) and Nevada (Sharron Angle versus Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid).
Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer holds a small lead in most polls in California versus challenger Carly Fiorina. In Connecticut, Democrat Richard Blumenthal has a shrinking lead over Republican Linda McMahon in the open seat race. In total, 12 Democratic-held seats are in play. In five, the GOP has solid leads; in five others, the race is essentially even; and in two others , the Democrats have small to modest leads. If the GOP wins all five tossup races, a ten-seat net pickup is within reach.
But for that to happen, the GOP will also need to hold all of its own vulnerable seats. The most critical is Florida, where Republican Governor Charlie Crist is running as an independent against Republican Marco Rubio and a Democratic nominee to be determined in an upcoming primary. Polls are all over the place in this race, but on average Crist is narrowly ahead and seems to be drawing most of his support from Democrats.
If Crist wins, it is widely expected that he will caucus with the Democrats next January, since he has adopted most of their positions in the last few months. If Rubio wins, it may be due to the GOP get-out-the-vote operation, which Crist as an independent will not have. Crist is relying on name recognition and favorable ratings as governor to address any ground game weakness.
The GOP is ahead by five to 10 points in other open seat races: Ohio (Rob Portman versus Lee Fisher), Missouri (Roy Blunt versus Robin Carnahan), New Hampshire (likely GOP candidate Kelly Ayotte versus Democrat Paul Hodes), and Kentucky (Rand Paul versus Jack Conway). Two incumbent GOP senators are ahead by about ten points: Senator David Vitter in Louisiana and Senator Richard Burr in North Carolina. The Missouri race could tighten, but the others look pretty safe.
Overall, I think the GOP winning control of the Senate is possible but unlikely. A safer projection based on current polling is for a pickup of six to eight seats.
If that occurs, the GOP will be in position to win the additional seats needed to take control in 2012, when there will be many vulnerable Democrats running, several of them elected in the 2006 Democratic sweep, and few endangered GOP senators. The GOP targets include Democratic-held seats in Montana, Virginia, Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Nebraska, and possibly New Jersey, Florida, and Washington state.