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The Top Five Most Vulnerable GOP Senate Seats

The current election cycle was shaping up as a difficult one for Republican senators even before Donald Trump became the leader in the battle for the GOP presidential nomination.

Just as Democrats were exposed in 2014 and lost nine Senate seats and their majority, Republicans have 24 seats to defend in 2016 versus only 10 for Democrats. And this is a presidential year, when Democratic turnout is usually far stronger than for midterms. In 2008 and 2012, the last two presidential election years, Democrats picked up Senate seats (a net of 10), while Republicans had substantial gains from the last two midterms in 2010 and 2014 (a net of 15).

In 2014 Republicans had many targets, as Democrats were defending seats in seven states Mitt Romney won in 2012: North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, and Alaska. Republicans also picked up an open seat in Iowa and won Colorado, two Obama states from 2012.

In 2016, the picture is almost reversed. Republicans are defending seats in seven states Obama won in 2012: New Hampshire, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa. One big difference between 2014 and 2016 is that six of the Democratic seats Republicans won in 2014 were in states Romney had won by 14% or more (only North Carolina had been a narrow Romney victory by 2%). In 2016, only one of the Republican seats -- Mark Kirk’s in Illinois -- is in a state that is deeply blue, a 17-point Obama win in 2012. In the other six states, Obama won by 7% or less.

Which are the five most endangered Republican-held Senate seats? Most of the serious political analysts have rated Kirk’s and Ron Johnson’s in Wisconsin as the two most vulnerable in 2016, and regard both as, at best, toss-ups or as races leaning to the Democrats.

Johnson will face a rematch against the former senator he defeated in 2010, Russ Feingold. In polls to date, both Kirk and Johnson are behind, in some surveys by 10% or more.