WASHINGTON — Republicans are poised to dramatically shrink the Democrats' Senate majority and further complicate President Barack Obama's agenda, even if they fall short of seizing control of the 100-member chamber.
Republicans must pick up 10 seats to regain the majority they lost four years ago. Analysts in both parties consider that a tough task. The GOP would have to win every toss-up race, plus score upsets in California, Washington or perhaps Connecticut; Obama coasted in those states in 2008.
Republicans seem almost certain to pick up Senate seats in North Dakota and Indiana — where veteran Democrats are retiring — and in Arkansas, where two-term Sen. Blanche Lincoln consistently has trailed Republican John Boozman in polls. Obama lost Arkansas by 20 percentage points in 2008.
These races could have long-term implications because Democrats may have trouble retaking those Senate seats six years and 12 years from now.
Democrats privately acknowledge they have slim chances of winning any GOP-held seats this year, despite earlier hopes in Ohio, New Hampshire, Missouri and Kentucky. Republicans are reveling in their good fortunes.
"At the start of this election cycle, most political experts were predicting additional gains in the Senate by the Democrats," said GOP spokesman Brian Walsh.
The opposite is true now.
Leaders in both parties say four fiercely contested races could go either way: Nevada, Colorado, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Nevada has gotten the most national attention. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's popularity has sagged lately, and he seemed almost doomed a year ago. But Republicans nominated tea party favorite Sharron Angle, a relative newcomer whose inexperience and libertarian views have raised eyebrows.
An Angle triumph would mark the second time in six years that the Senate's Democratic leader lost a re-election bid amid charges that he became too focused on Washington. Tom Daschle of South Dakota fell victim in 2004.
Another tea party favorite, Ken Buck, is running a strong race in Colorado against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. Bennet was appointed to the seat, and is running his first campaign, which has impressed political pros in both parties.
The race to fill the open Illinois Senate seat once held by Obama has an unusually large number of undecided voters in the final days, perhaps reflecting both nominees' flaws. Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, a five-term House member, has struggled to overcome false statements he made about his military record.
Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer, has had to answer questions about ethical and legal questions surrounding his family's failed Chicago bank. Obama made a final weekend appearance with Giannoulias in Chicago.
In Pennsylvania, Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak defied his party's establishment by beating Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in the Senate primary. The GOP nominee is Pat Toomey, who advocates steep tax cuts and less regulation for businesses. Of the four on-the-bubble Senate races, Republicans feel most optimistic about Pennsylvania.
The biggest wild card entering the campaign's final hours is Alaska, where a tumultuous three-way race conceivably could fall to Democrat Scott McAdams. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is trying to keep her seat with a write-in campaign after losing the GOP primary to tea party newcomer Joe Miller, who has stumbled in recent weeks.
Otherwise, the chief focus is on eight Democratic-held Senate seats that have been sharply contested for months.
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