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Dems confident about holding Senate despite being outspent by Republicans

There is surging optimism among Democrats that the party will hold the Senate in the November election, despite Republicans outspending them 2 to 1.

Party strategists don’t treat Missouri as a foregone conclusion, but they are optimistic that this once-tough race has become a likely win since Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican candidate, blundered into damaging comments last month about “legitimate rape.”

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Unless Akin drops out soon, control of the Senate will probably hinge on Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Democratic and Republican strategists say the Ohio and Virginia races will swing in the same direction as the presidential contest. Few think Republican candidates Josh Mandel and George Allen can win in Ohio and Virginia, respectively, if Romney loses those states.

Republicans’ biggest advantage is backing from outside groups that have outspent pro-Democratic groups by $79 million to $31 million on advertising, according to a strategist who tracks media buys. This includes independent expenditures by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Republican-allied groups such as Crossroads GPS, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the 60 Plus Association have spent $16 million in Ohio, while pro-Democratic groups, such as Majority PAC, have spent 3.7 million, the media source said.

Despite this, Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownLawmakers play catch-up as smartphone banking surges Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas House votes to eliminate Olympic medal tax MORE (D-Ohio) has a 7-point lead over Mandel, according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll. Another by the University of Cincinnati gave Brown a 1-point lead.

This has given Senate Democrats fresh confidence.

“Money is a factor, but it’s not the only factor. Having good candidates and a good message with a good record is going to help as well,” said Rodell Mollineau, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide who now heads a Democratic super-PAC.

Democrats are buoyed by President Obama’s lead in Ohio and Virginia, where the fates of Brown and former Virginia Gov. Tim KaineTim KaineKaine predicts race will be 'close right up to the end' Kaine participates in Native American powwow Sunday shows preview: Both sides gear up for debate MORE (D) are seen as pegged to the presidential race. Obama has a 1.4-point lead in Ohio and an advantage of only a fraction of a point in Virginia, according to an average of recent surveys compiled by RealClearPolitics.

The three most likely Republican Senate pickups are Nebraska, North Dakota and Montana.

“Nebraska is definitely gone,” said a Democratic strategist. Democrats have all but given up hope of former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) winning since conservative newcomer Deb FischerDeb FischerIvanka sells Trump childcare to Capitol Hill GOP to Obama: Sanction Chinese entities to get to North Korea Massachusetts demonstrates progress is possible on equal pay MORE won in a GOP primary upset.

North Dakota and Montana are viewed as leaning Republican because both states will vote solidly for Mitt Romney, but the strength of the Democratic candidates, former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampOvernight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas Iran president hints at future prisoner swaps, cash settlements with US Senators buck spending bill over Export-Import Bank MORE and Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterOvernight Healthcare: Mylan CEO to defend record on EpiPens | Medical cures bill delayed to lame duck | House GOP hopeful about Zika deal Tribes open new front in fight over pipelines Dem lawmakers: Clinton should have disclosed illness sooner MORE (Mont.), is keeping the races close.

The NRSC has pulled funding from Missouri and New Mexico, which it saw as pickup chances earlier in the cycle, and shifted resources to North Dakota, underscoring its concern there.

The next round of competitive races are Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonSenate rivals gear up for debates The Trail 2016: Trump seizes on Charlotte violence The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Wis.) told The Hill last week that he sees his home state as an easier pickup than Ohio and Virginia. Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson has opened a 6-point lead over Rep. Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinOvernight Defense: US attempted hostage rescue in Afghanistan | Defense hawks brace for spending fight | Trump slams 'lies' about Iraq war stance Senators want military separation policy to address trauma-related behavior Community development can help close the opportunity divide MORE (D-Wis.).

Some Democratic strategists say Baldwin would have run better against one of the two more conservative candidates who split the anti-Thompson vote in the GOP primary. Others counter that Baldwin merely has lower name recognition than Thompson and plenty of time to improve it by Election Day.

A labor strategist predicted outside groups would begin to spend significantly on behalf of Baldwin. EMILY’s List is planning to buy airtime for ads in the coming weeks, according to the source.

Senate Democrats are dunning donors in Charlotte this week. Brown has a fundraiser for the Ohio Grassroots Victory Fund scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday, according to a Democratic source. Baldwin plans a fundraiser at Aquavina steakhouse at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBlack Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP Report: Intelligence officials probing Trump adviser's ties to Russia White House preps agencies for possible shutdown MORE (D-Nev.) is holding two fundraising events for his leadership political action committee (PAC) Wednesday, one at Halcyon, a restaurant on South Tryon Street that specializes in the “farmhouse-chic experience,” and a second at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse on East Trade Street,  according to Democratic sources.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) will hold a fundraiser for his leadership PAC at the Mint Museum of craft and design, said another Democratic donor.

Democratic Sens. Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE (Ark.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas Senate Dems call for investigation into Wells Fargo's wage practices Fears mount that Obama will change course on Israel in final months MORE (N.Y.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyOvernight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas Wells CEO Stumpf resigns from Fed advisory panel Senate Dems call for investigation into Wells Fargo's wage practices MORE (Ore.) also have fundraising events scheduled this week, a Democratic donor said.

Democratic senators have kept their fundraising schedules private. Aides to Inouye, Reid and Baldwin did not respond to requests for comment.

Republicans need a net gain of four seats to recapture the Senate majority, or three if they win the presidency and Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan has 'no idea' who will win election Sunday shows preview: Both sides gear up for debate FULL SPEECH: Obama celebrates African American museum opening MORE gains the deciding vote.

Connecticut Republican candidate Linda McMahon, who spent $50 million on her failed 2010 Senate bid, has narrowed the lead of Rep. Chris MurphyChris MurphySaudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Dems to McConnell: Bring up Trump tax bill Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (R-Conn.).
Democrats are spending heavily in Florida to protect Sen. Bill NelsonBill NelsonGOP puts shutdown squeeze play on Dems Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Dem to support spending bill despite no Flint aid MORE (D), who was thought to have a relatively easy race.

Upsets in those states could give Republicans the majority, although Democrats do not take the threats very seriously.

While Democrats are counting retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat in Maine as a probable gain, polls show Sen. Dean HellerDean HellerSenate lays groundwork for spending deal GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase Overnight Finance: Senators struggle with spending bill | Obama lifting Myanmar sanctions | Dems turn up heat on Wells Fargo | Panel votes to exempt Olympic medals from taxes MORE (R) and Sen. Scott Brown (R) with leads in Nevada and Massachusetts, respectively, blunting their offensive.

This story was updated at 8:02 a.m.