Senate Republicans bearish on chances to win majority

Senate Republicans are bearish about their chances to win back the Senate in Tuesday's elections.

Top GOP figures in the Senate have managed to tamp down expectations about their party's performance on Nov. 2, when less conventional GOP candidates will be fighting for victory in a series of key races.

The head of Republicans' campaign efforts in the Senate, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), said flatly on Monday he didn't expect Republicans to pick up the net gain of 10 seats they need to win a majority in the Senate.

"I think we don't get the majority back, but we've come awfully close, and we finish the job in 2012," he said on NBC's "Today" show.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the GOP's fourth-ranking member of the Senate, was slightly more optimistic that 10 seats were within reach, but said a gain of seven or eight was more realistic.

"The Senate, I think, is a little more difficult. There are some races that are very close. I think that we can win a lot of those races if people come out," Thune told the conservative magazine Newsmax. "It takes 10 to get the Senate back. I think that's possible, probably more likely that we win seven or eight."

Republicans' subdued optimism in the closing days of the 2010 cycle does not necessarily represent any shift in their projections. Top Senate Republicans have been more measured than their House counterparts in making public predictions about Election Day.

Their perspective is informed in no small part by the reality on the ground. While heavy turnout by Republicans could fuel wins that would put control of the Senate in play, some candidates have struggled in the closing days of the campaign against entrenched Democratic incumbents.

Some of those candidates — such as Delaware's Christine O'Donnell — are running far behind their Democratic opponents. Others, such as Sharron Angle in Nevada, Carly Fiorina in California, Dino Rossi in Washington and John Raese in West Virginia, are facing mixed polls, showing them tied or falling behind in their challenges.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested on Friday he expects to lead a party that's still in the minority come next year. He said last week it would be a "real stretch" for Republicans to win a Senate majority.