In light of polls, Dems express confidence in holding off the GOP

With polls showing momentum in their favor in two key Senate contests,
national Democrats say they’re newly confident they can stave off a
November loss of the Senate majority.

Democrats point out West, where recent surveys have GOP challengers trailing in two races they must win if Republicans are to have a realistic chance of taking back the chamber.

{mosads}In California, new numbers from Public Policy Polling show Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) with a 50-42 lead over Republican Carly Fiorina. And in Washington state, a handful of recent surveys give Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) a lead over Republican Dino Rossi of between 5 and 9 percentage points.

The surprise win for Tea Party-backed Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, strategists say, has put that seat back in play for the Democrats, who had once all but written it off. And there is now uncertainty even in the Alaska Senate race, where, after an upset defeat in the GOP primary, Sen. Lisa Murkowski is waging a write-in campaign that could split the Republican vote.

Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Monday it’s “less likely than it was two weeks ago” that Republicans can win in Delaware and Alaska, making it that much harder to regain Senate control.

The Senate landscape still largely favors the GOP. Republican candidates hold commanding leads in open-seat races in Ohio and Indiana, while Florida and Pennsylvania have been trending their way.

Senate Democrats hold a 59-41 edge, with Republicans needing to pick up 10 seats to win back a majority.

“I have never been a huge believer in Republicans winning back the Senate this cycle,” said one top GOP strategist, noting that the party risks falling short in November by casting too wide a net. “You can make a great case that we get to 47 or 48 and that’s where the focus should be.”

In the wake of the outcome in Delaware, that goal came back into focus for the GOP. One party strategist suggested he’d rather head into November assuming Republicans can’t take back the upper chamber so the party can focus on the much more attainable goal of cutting into the Democratic majority.

So far, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has focused its resources on open-seat contests, at least when it comes to TV ad buys. The committee’s first spot hit Democrat Jack Conway in Kentucky last week; he’s locked in a tough race with Republican Rand Paul.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, meanwhile, has focused much of its early fire on Ken Buck in Colorado. The committee launched another three ads Monday targeting the Weld County prosecutor.

With O’Donnell the nominee in Delaware, the Senate math has turned exceedingly difficult for the GOP — but not impossible. If Republicans scratch Delaware off the board, the party likely needs one of its longer-shot self-funders to come through to reach 51 senators.

That means either Linda McMahon in Connecticut or John Raese in West Virginia, where what once looked to be an easy win for Democrats is now much closer.

{mosads}In Connecticut, McMahon still has an uphill battle against State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) despite already spending some $20 million of her own money. But McMahon has gained steadily, and the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment can’t be counted out given the anticipated media and spending blitz the campaign appears prepared to unleash.

And in West Virginia, self-funding Republican businessman Raese is spending heavily on ads tying Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Washington. The latest Rasmussen poll in that race has Manchin up by just seven.

Here’s the current math for the GOP to get to the majority in the Senate: Republicans must hold the line in five open-seat races (Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio). They must come through in three races they shouldn’t lose (North Dakota, Arkansas and Indiana). They must win four tough races against Democratic incumbents (Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin and California). And they must win all three of the following toss-up races: Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington state.

Much of the focus for Republicans will be on Nevada — where knocking off Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would prove a huge trophy for the party — as well as the open-seat contests in Kentucky, Colorado, Missouri and Florida. Any loss there would end the outside shot of Republican control, but also prove a symbolic win for Democrats, who have no realistic shot of flipping a seat outside of these contests.

Among the trio of Boxer, Murray and Sen. Russ Feingold, Republicans increasingly point to the Wisconsin Democrat as potentially the most vulnerable.

New numbers due out Tuesday from Public Policy Polling are expected to show Feingold down double digits against Republican Ron Johnson.

Tags Barbara Boxer Harry Reid Joe Manchin Lisa Murkowski Patty Murray Rand Paul Richard Blumenthal Ron Johnson

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