McConnell: Midterms will be 'very challenging' for GOP
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Boehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress MORE (R-Ky.) said on Thursday that the midterm elections will be "very challenging" for Republicans, predicting that both chambers are in play. 

"I think the safest place to be is just to say that this is going to be a very challenging election, and I don’t think we know in May ... whether it’s Category 3, 4 or 5," he told The Washington Post

He added that, historically, the party in power loses seats during off-year elections. 

“It’s pretty hard to deny the history of off-year elections, particularly off-year elections two years into the first term,” McConnell said. 

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Though control of the House is widely considered to be in play heading into November, Republicans face a more favorable map in their quest to keep control of the Senate.

Republicans have a narrow 51-49 majority in the chamber and face a slate of nasty primary fights. 

But Democrats are defending roughly two dozen seats in November, including several in red and purple states won by President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE in 2016. Trump, during his closed-door meeting with Republicans this week, specifically name-checked Democratic Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEverybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMurkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden On The Money: Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief | Relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority | Senate confirms Biden's picks for Commerce, top WH economist Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief MORE (W.Va.). 

McConnell, however, told the Post that control of the Senate could be determined, in part, by the outcome of battles for seats currently held by Republicans. 

In addition to Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and Florida, where Republicans want to unseat Democratic incumbents, McConnell also pointed to the Senate battles in Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee. 

GOP Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE is running for reelection in Nevada while GOP Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerIt's time for Biden's Cuba GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand MORE (Tenn.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFormer GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Klain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' MORE (Ariz.) are retiring, sparking fights for who will replace them.

"By any objective standard, those are the seats that are likely to be in play,” McConnell told the Post. 

The Senate GOP leader did not, however, mention Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Democratic Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate confirms Rouse as Biden's top economist Democrats push Biden to include recurring payments in recovery package Padilla has 'big Chuck Taylors to fill' in replacing Harris MORE, Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyRepublicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars Senate Democrats call on GAO to review child care access barriers for disabled parents, kids Democrats blast Trump team videos: 'False equivalency'  MORE Jr. and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinDemocrats push Biden to include recurring payments in recovery package Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Democrats want businesses to help get LGBT bill across finish line MORE, respectively, are running for reelection in states won by Trump.