Senate Scorecard: GOP dealt serious blow in battle for upper chamber

Republican hopes of retaking the Senate have been dealt a serious blow as a couple of key races shifted in the Democrats favor.

New movement on behalf of the Democratic candidate in Indiana, combined with increasingly bleak outlooks in Maine and Massachusetts, where Sen. Scott Brown (R) is in trouble, would give Democrats three pickups in the upper chamber.

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That means Republicans will have to win six Democratic seats — seven if President Obama wins reelection — to retake control of the Senate, a tall task.

At this point, it may be more likely that Democrats actually gain seats than lose control in an election cycle where they were expected to be playing defense.

Here’s a look at recent movement in several key Senate races:

INDIANA:

Republican candidate Richard Mourdock has been on defense since he made controversial comments on pregnancy and rape.

"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God," Mourdock said at a debate, after noting he believes in abortion only when the mother's life is in danger. "And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

Democrats pounced on the remark, tying it to other Mourdock comments opposing bipartisan compromise to paint him as outside the political mainstream. According to a poll released Friday by the well-respected Howey Politics Indiana, it’s worked. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) leads Mourdock by 11 points — 47 to 36 percent.

“It’s all over but the crying. Joe Donnelly is poised to succeed Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in the U.S. Senate,” GOP pollster Christine Matthews, who helped conduct the poll, wrote in Friday’s edition of Howey Politics Indiana.

The race could tighten – Mourdock’s campaign insists it’s still ahead, and an 11-point lead seems large — but his remarks are likely the last impression voters will take to the polls.

NEBRASKA:

Democrat Bob Kerrey’s surge in recent polling has shaken Republicans’ confidence in a pickup, as state Sen. Deb Fischer’s (R) lead has shrunk from double digits to just 3 percentage points in a recent independent poll from the Omaha World-Herald at 49 to 46 percent support.

That steep drop in support since September indicates Kerrey's attacks on Fischer's involvement in a land dispute may be working.

Outside groups have jumped back on the air in recent days, a sign they see a tightening race. The GOP group American Crossroads recently launched a major ad buy for the last days of the campaign, as did the Democratic group VoteVets.

Kerrey also rolled out a big-name endorsement that he hopes will boost his bipartisan bona-fides: Former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel, still revered by many in Nebraska.

Fischer is still favored to win, but the new attention on both sides has made this race a surprising one to watch in the final stretch.

WISCONSIN:

A race that had long focused on healthcare and the economy has taken a dark turn in the closing days.

But that hasn’t moved the polls, which show one of the tightest Senate races in the country between Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R).

Baldwin has embraced her party’s leaders in a state that’s leaning Democratic at the top of the ticket. She’s stumping with President Obama and Vice President Biden during their appearances in the state this week and touting an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton in her final ad.

In recent weeks she and Thompson have engaged in a nasty back-and-forth over national security. Ads from Thompson accused Baldwin of being soft on Iran and voting against a resolution to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, with Baldwin countering that Thompson had made millions off of the tragedy and owns stock in companies who are helping Iran develop its nuclear program.

Two recent polls both show Baldwin holding a 3-point lead, with a survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP) showing her with a 51-48 advantage and a We Ask America poll putting her up 49 to 46. 

MISSOURI:

It’s improbable that Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) will shake off the stigma of his rape comments and win, but there are signs it may not be impossible.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (R-Mo.) lurched ahead and has held steady with high-single-digit leads over Akin since late August, following his remark that pregnancy is rare in cases of “legitimate rape” because the female body has mechanisms to prevent it. The comment caught fire and brought rebukes from most in the Republican Party.

But a poll released last weekend from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Mason Dixon showed him just two points behind the incumbent, at 45-43, and this week Akin has received a flood of new support from outside groups — with questions about whether the National Republican Senatorial Committee is behind one such infusion (they won't comment) after they pledged to withdraw their support from Akin.

He’s now airing more ads than McCaskill for the first time all cycle. That, coupled with President Obama’s unpopularity in the state, could be enough to push Akin to a win — but such an outcome is far from likely, and Akin’s surge and the resulting support may just be too little, too late.

OTHER RACES:

Massachusetts and North Dakota’s Senate races offer the same lesson: Sometimes even the strongest candidates can’t outperform their party.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) faced a difficult road to reelection from the beginning in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, on the same ticket as Mitt Romney, who has posted a double-digit deficit there all cycle. He mounted a strong campaign based on his proclaimed independence and a beer-drinking everyman appeal, and managed to retain high popularity in the face of attacks on his record from Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

But Obama’s coattails may simply be too long in Massachusetts, and Warren looks increasingly likely to pull through on Election Day, flipping another seat for which Republicans held high hopes.

A PPP poll puts Warren up 6, with 52 percent support to Brown's 46. A Suffolk/7News poll gives her a broader lead of 53 to 46, up 7.

In North Dakota, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp walks through farmland, chats with ranchers and even hits softballs in her ads, but she may not be able to convince enough voters that she’s not a rubber-stamp for Obama, as Republican Rep. Rick Berg’s (R-N.D.) campaign has called her.

Berg’s campaign has found few other ways to hit Heitkamp, as she’s made an effort to tout her support for Republican pet projects, like the Keystone pipeline and coal and natural gas mining. The race remains a toss-up, but Obama faces a double-digit deficit in the state, one that Heitkamp may not be able to shake in time for Election Day.

A Mason-Dixon poll at the end of October gave Berg a slim 47-45 lead.

Meanwhile, both sides predict a coin-flip race in Montana, while Democrats feel good about holding onto their seat in Virginia. 

In Montana, a recent Rasmussen poll puts Sen. Jon Tester (D) up 1, at 49-48. A Virginia WeAskAmerica poll released last week showed a dead heat with former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) and former Sen. George Allen (R) knotted at 50 percent support each.

Republicans, though, feel fairly confident about their seat in Nevada, where a recent Las Vegas Review Journal/Survey USA poll shows Sen. Dean Heller (R) leading Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) 46 to 40, and more so about Arizona, where Rasmussen has Rep. Jeff Flake (R) up 50 to 44 over Democrat Richard Carmona.

This story was updated on Nov. 4 at 8:23 a.m.

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