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Former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitcamp
North Dakota's Heidi Heitcamp is giving Democrats hope of holding their ground in the Senate.
At the beginning of 2012, I (along with pretty much everyone else in the political world) was ready to write off the Senate.

Of the 33 Senate seats in play, 23 are held by Democrats, and just 10 by Republicans.

Of those 23 held by Democrats, five are in red states—Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and West Virginia. Another seven are in swing states that Obama won—Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Republicans need just four to win an outright majority in the Senate.

But are things as bleak as the topline numbers would suggest? Surprisingly not.

Republicans look set to pick up seats in Missouri and Nebraska. Sen. Claire McCaskill is easily the most endangered incumbent this year, while no poll has shown Bob Kerrey competitive in Nebraska. On the plus side, Republicans will spend millions locking down these states.

Republicans had designs on the following Democratically held seats:

The open seats in Virginia and Wisconsin are real dogfights. Wisconsin teabaggers could bail us out by defeating former Gov. Tommy Thompson in their primary. That would give Democratic candidate Tammy Baldwin the edge. Virginia will go down to the wire, just as it did in 2006 (as will Montana, for that matter).

The open seat in North Dakota should be an easy GOP pickup, but Democrat Heidi Heitcamp has the lead in early Democratic polling. Republicans, for their part, have not released any numbers showing otherwise, so they must be accurate enough. Still, it's a tough state.

Republicans scored a recruitment coup in New Mexico with former Rep. Heather Wilson, yet she trailed Democratic nominee Martin Heinrich by a significant margin in a recent poll. Still, I'd want to see more polling before breathing easy.

Republicans might've been competitive in Florida, Michigan or Pennsylvania if they had better challengers, but they didn't. Connie Mack Jr. has fizzled hilariously in Florida, while Michigan's Pete Hoekstra crashed and burned after airing that racist Super Bowl ad back in January. And no, scrubbing the ad from his website wasn't enough to bail him out.

Conservative Super PACs have already spent over $5 million trashing Sherrod Brown in Ohio, yet his numbers have held remarkably strong and is not yet in "endangered" territory. His resilience is perhaps the surprise of the season.

And then there's Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who won his special election narrowly in 2010, yet now leads by comically large numbers against John Reese in an expected rematch. Luckily that means Manchin won't have to burn Obama in effigy to win votes this fall.

So what's that, two pickups for the GOP, with maybe 5-6 within reach? That gets them easily within reach of the four seats they need. But Democrats are also playing offense.

The two best Democratic pickup opportunities are, without a doubt, Maine and Massachusetts. While former Independent Gov. Angus King won't say who he would caucus with, he's also already said he's supporting President Barack Obama. The GOP will be hard pressed to retain this seat. Meanwhile, even Rasmussen has Elizabeth Warren ahead in Massachusetts. Fluke Sen. Scott Brown faces some real headwinds in this indigo Blue state.

Democrats have strong challengers in both Arizona and Nevada, where they'll get an assist from those states' changing demographics.

And while that should be the end of it for Democrats, the teabaggers are doing everything in their power to deny their party control of the Senate, just like they did in 2010. Last cycle, it was Christine O'Donnell and Sharrrrrron Angle. This year, they're trying to help us out in primaries in Wisconsin and Missouri, and by fueling Indiana's Richard Mourdock. If incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar wins the nomination today, then there's no contest. The seat stays red. But Lugar didn't do that one thing that one time, or something, and the teabaggers are angry! Thus, he will lose today and amazingly give the Democrats' Joe Donnelly a chance of picking up this seat.

If the election were today, the two expected GOP pickups would be offset by the two expected Democratic pickups, with control decided by the other 5-6 Democratic seats and three Republican seats in play.

Republicans are within striking distance of taking the Senate, but it's not as easy a task as it seemed just a short while ago. If you twisted my arm, I'd say, at this time, we're seeing GOP +1 in the Senate—which would be a huge disappointment for them given pre-cycle expectations.

Originally posted to kos on Mon May 07, 2012 at 04:15 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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