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Ten months into the “Races to Watch” series, initial analyses have held up rather well. Aside from a handful of shifts due to unforeseen developments and self-inflicted wounds, the Senate battleground remains largely unchanged.

However, three states have altered their toss-up status:
  • Michigan now leans D (Democrat hold);
  • Louisiana now leans R (GOP pick-up); and
  • Alaska now Leans R (GOP pick-up).
Additionally, four new races are now on the radar.

In the biggest shocker of the cycle, three-term incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R) is in the fight of his political life against wealthy independent Greg Orman. Roberts was weakened by a serious primary challenge, and emerged unprepared for a serious general election matchup. When late summer polls showed Orman leading in a hypothetical two-way race, national Democrats coaxed their nominee to step aside at the 11th hour to avoid playing spoiler. Orman’s lead has dissipated as Republicans have assailed him on the Kansas airwaves in an attempt to nationalize the race, but time is running short. Roberts has cast Orman as a sure-fire vote for Harry Reid and Barack Obama, but the independent has thus far maintained that he will caucus with whichever party has a “clear majority.” Bottom line: toss-up.

South Dakota
In another surprise, two-term former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) is suddenly under fire in a race presumed to be firmly in the GOP column. The decision of ex-Sen. Larry Pressler to seek his old seat as an Independent always made this a sleeper race. With solid residual name recognition and favorability from his 18 years as a Republican senator, Pressler has benefitted from successful attacks on Rounds. Democrat Rick Weiland, once left for dead by the national party, suddenly has outside help from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as well as a major Super PAC. Rounds has maintained a small lead, and Republicans have begun to hit back on both opponents, but with an unpredictable and increasingly fluid three-way dynamic, this seat is no longer a guarantee. Bottom line: lean R (GOP pick-up).

With the entry of political newcomer Michelle Nunn, daughter of legendary former Sen. and Gov. Sam Nunn, this race was always expected to be competitive. When a long GOP primary process and subsequent run-off produced a seemingly uncontroversial nominee in businessman David Perdue, most analysts moved Georgia to the back burner. The state’s run-off system requires a candidate to exceed 50 percent of the vote in order to win outright, and Nunn’s successful attacks on Perdue’s jobs record as a corporate executive has made a two-month “overtime” much more likely. Nunn’s challenge will be turning out her base not just once, but a second time next January. When a surge of Obama voters forced Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) into a 2008 runoff, a narrow three-point election night margin fanned out into a double-digit romp in the December two-way. Nunn gives herself a chance by putting Perdue on the defensive for an additional nine weeks, but the Republican still has the upper hand. Bottom line: lean R.

New Hampshire
Despite impressive approval ratings, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown was bounced from office in 2012 as the state reasserted its blue nature. After being courted to run for the vacant seat by left by John Kerry’s appointment as Secretary of State, and passing on a bid for the open governor’s race, Brown surprised many by crossing the northern border to challenge incumbent democrat Jeanne Shaheen. New Hampshire’s September primary divided the GOP vote in early polls, keeping this race below the radar. Now that Brown has consolidated the Republican base and made inroads with independents, this seat is suddenly too close to call. Shaheen’s record as a popular three-term governor may help her survive a mild GOP tide, but a rising wave could send Brown back to the Senate after a brief hiatus. Bottom line: toss-up.

Final Ratings
At this point, GOP candidates are favored in to win 50 seats and democrats are favored to hold 45. There are five toss-ups: North Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Kansas.

To clinch control of the Senate, Republicans must simply win one out of the remaining five toss-up races. Right now they lead polling averages in Iowa and Colorado, trail narrowly in North Carolina and New Hampshire, and Kansas is too close to call. By giving each party the races they currently lead, and taking Orman at his word that he will caucus with the eventual majority, Republicans likely will control 53 seats, good for a net gain of eight.

Liam Donovan is director of legislative and political affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email donovan@abc.org.

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