For DSCC, encouraging signs in troubled waters

It’s not all doom and gloom at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). Not yet.

For all the recent talk about Republicans potentially regaining their majority in 2010, Senate Democrats actually had a pretty decent week.

Maybe the bar is low after the first two months of 2010, but even with Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (D-Ark.) new primary challenge, Democrats had some positive developments to point to.

It started with Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) brazen and hazard-frought effort to prevent an extension of unemployment benefits. For Democrats looking to cast Republicans as obstructionists bent on saying ‘no,’ few things could be better than a cranky-old-senator type standing in the way of benefits for 10 percent of the population already crushed by economic hardship.

On top of that, two major potential challengers to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) – former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) and New York Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman – both stepped aside. Polling has since showed Gillibrand, at long last, improving her political standing in the state.

Polling has also shown that Indiana is hardly a slam dunk for the GOP. A Research 2000 poll for the liberal website Daily Kos had former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) leading Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) by just one point, 37-36.

Ellsworth, if he can raise enough money, has a great candidate profile, and the fact that he’s already neck and neck with Republicans is a good sign for Democrats. His decision to run, of course, gave the party its top choice after Sen. Evan Bayh’s (D-Ind.) retirement, and Democrats avoided a tough nominating contest when Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) stepped aside for Ellsworth this week.

Even Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) had a good week, landing a strong hit on primary opponent Rep. Joe Sestak for the pittance Sestak pays his campaign staffers. Specter then saw his first lead in months in a general election poll (though the Ballot Box still thinks it’s an outlier).

But of course, there’s always the reality check. On Wednesday, former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D) announced she would not run for Senate. That leaves Gov. John Hoeven (R) on path for a coronation, but it was difficult to see Heitkamp competing with him anyways.

This post was updated at 6:40 p.m.

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