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Republicans’ Senate woes

The Senate picture gets worse for Republicans every week.

Recent polls give Democrats Mark Warner and Rep. Tom Udall nearly 20-point leads in Virginia and New Mexico, respectively, suggesting near-guaranteed pickups in those two Republican open seats. Additionally, polls show Democrats leading in “red” Senate seats in New Hampshire, Alaska, Colorado, North Carolina and Mississippi. (Yes, Mississippi.)

That’s seven Republican-held seats in which the GOP already trails its Democratic foes.

On top of that, Democrats trail narrowly in another handful of Republican-held Senate seats — Oregon, Minnesota and Texas. (Yes, Texas.) And aggressive, cash-flush Democrats are eyeing Republican-held seats in Maine, Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska as potentially competitive.

Add another seat to the list — a big one — Kentucky’s, where a May 22 Rasmussen poll shows Democrat Bruce Lunsford leading Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), 49-44.

That makes an astonishing eight Republican-held seats in which the GOP already trails.

The Kentucky numbers shouldn’t be completely surprising, since earlier polling hinted at a fundamental weakness in McConnell’s numbers. A Research 2000 poll taken May 5-7 had McConnell under 50 percent, leading Lunsford 48-36, and incumbents under 50 percent are generally considered endangered.

Now Lunsford seems to have gotten his own primary boost after defeating Greg Fischer in their May 20 primary match-up — yet more evidence of the advantages of competitive primaries, just as we saw just two weeks ago when Democrat Kay Hagan received a huge post-primary boost in the polls in her bid against Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) in North Carolina.

Now Republicans, fast relegated to “regional party” status (i.e., the South), are having a tough time holding seats — even in their region. The only theoretically competitive Democratic-held seat is Louisiana’s, yet Republicans lag by double digits in the early polling. Meanwhile, Democrats will pick up the Virginia Senate seat and are competing strongly in at least four other Southern states.

So what does the Senate’s top Republican have to say about this? “I am honored to once again be able to place myself before the voters of Kentucky and look forward to running against the Lunsford-Obama plan for America,” McConnell said in a statement following Lunsford’s strong primary victory.

Perhaps McConnell was taking solace from Barack Obama’s poor performance in the Bluegrass State, but voters aren’t responding well to such rank partisan appeals this year. In two House special elections this past month, efforts to tie Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to Democrats running in the heavily Republican Louisiana 6th and Mississippi 1st congressional districts fell flat — districts with partisan performance indexes that are even redder than Kentucky as a whole.

This puts Republicans all over the country in a bind. Their scapegoating of national Democrats and their constituencies (such as African-Americans, latte-sippers, homosexuals and immigrants) paid huge dividends in recent years, to the point that GOP campaigns evolved into little more than thinly veiled code words, like “San Francisco liberal.”

As long as such attacks worked, Republicans did fine. But in a world of endless war and recession, people are suddenly less concerned about who lives in San Francisco, and more concerned about what government can do to improve their lives.

Lacking answers to our nation’s pressing problems, even the Senate’s most powerful Republican, representing a state Bush won by 20 points, is feeling the electoral heat. And deservedly so.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .

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