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Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski
Both Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich will feature prominently in the next two election cycles.
The 2014 Senate picture looks even worse than it did (on paper) in 2012, but if we survive that, look out, because 2016 will be wondrous! Follow me below the fold for the details.

2014

2014 Senate map
Republicans are defending 13 seats, Democrats 20. But the seats the GOP is defending are nearly all in their territory: ID, WY, NE, KS, OK, TX, AL, MI, GA, SC, TN, and KY. Only Maine is being defended on Blue territory.

Meanwhile, Democrats must defend tough seats in (among other places) AK, CO, MT, SD, IA, AR, LA, NC, WV, and NH—either Red or swing states.

Democratic pickup opportunities are currently severely limited. Maine is obviously top of the list, but only if Susan Collins follows her former colleague Olympia Snowe into retirement. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is surprisingly unpopular in Kentucky, providing an outside chance of a race. American Crossroads is clearly spooked at a Ashley Judd candidacy, already hitting her with this web ad. And then there's the open seat in Georgia, a state that is demographically moving in our direction. The threat of a teabagger challenge chased Saxby Chambliss into retirement, giving us the best chance to replicate Indiana next year.

Republican prospects are much rosier, even if "rosy" is relative when it comes to the modern broken GOP (remember, things were pretty darn rosy for Republicans in 2012, and they still ended up losing two net seats to the Democrats).

Mark Begich in Alaska is holding his own in the early polling, but it'll be close. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Tim Johnson in South Dakota, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and Kay Hagan in North Carolina should all face serious and difficult reelection bids. Democratic retirements in Iowa and West Virginia will also be tough holds. Slot in Colorado and New Hampshire as GOP longshots, but they're on the map. Finally, Montana Democrats have been able to buck their state's Red lean during Senate races, and Max Baucus would have the slight edge, though Brian Schweitzer could lock it down (whether via primary challenge, or after a Baucus retirement).

What that all means is that Republicans are well within reach of the six seats they would need to control the Senate. The math makes that obvious. If there's a silver lining here, it's that the Red-state Dems on that list don't have to run with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, and won't have to contend with presidential-year turnout which would undoubtedly hurt most of them.

2016

2016 Senate map
But here's where it gets good. First of all, if a Democrat survived 2010 they can survive anything. That means their seats in CA, CO, CT, HI, MD, NV, NY, OR, VT, and WA are all safe. There's not a good GOP opportunity in that lot, even if retirements were to take place (and none are expected at this time).

Republicans, on the other hand, have to defend (in addition to their safe seats) FL, IL, IA, NH, NC, OH, PA, and WI. Furthermore, AZ, GA, and MO could be competitive if there were retirements, scandal, or teabagger primary victories.

Yes, Marco Rubio is the darling of the GOP and media establishments, but his Florida numbers are average at best. And in any case, he may be on the presidential ticket anyway. Mark Kirk in Illinois is toast. Iowa's Chuck Grassley will be 83 on Election Day 2016. Republicans are praying he doesn't retire.

As long as base turnout doesn't plummet, a la 2010, New Hampshire freshman GOPer Kelly Ayotte will face a tough re-election battle. North Carolina's Richard Burr is a longshot, but still on the map.

But the most fun will be teabagger troika in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, particularly in a presidential year when base turnout will be maximized: Scuttlebutt out of Wisconsin is that Russ Feingold wants a rematch against the joker Ron Johnson representing his state in the Senate. Pat Toomey won the Keystone State by just two points in a year when the Democratic base sat out. And while Rob Portman won his seat convincingly in the Buckeye State, again it was with depressed Democratic turnout.

Put Hillary Clinton on our presidential ticket, and you might even see Republican-held seats in Arkansas and Kentucky under pressure. And finally, Alaska presents an interesting scenario: Lisa Murkowski already lost a Republican primary and won election as a write-in independent. She would likely face a similar situation in 2016, and against another split field, a Democrat might be able to succeed (or push Murkowski out of the GOP).

Obviously, 2016 is a long way away, and much can and will happen before then. But no matter how bleak 2014 looks for us on paper, just remember that 2016 will be our reward for holding strong and limiting GOP gains next year.

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