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The Fix's "Big Senate Six"

With only fourteen days left before the 2010 midterm elections, the Senate playing field is coming into clear focus.

Based on spending by the two national parties, various and sundry independent groups and a collection of public polling, there are now six races that have emerged as the key battlegrounds heading into November 2: Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington State and West Virginia.

Any scenario where Republicans retake the Senate majority on Nov. 2 -- for a detailed look at how Republicans could get to the majority, check out our "Monday Fix" newspaper column -- depends on sweeping these six Democratic-held seats.

We are calling these half dozen races the "Big Senate Six" and will be doing our best to spill as much (digital) ink as possible on them over the next fortnight. Here's a quick synopsis of where each stands today (races are listed in alphabetical order):

Colorado: Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck (R) have been exchanging body blows on television for the entire fall. The back and forth is familiar to anyone paying attention to politics this cycle. Democrats say Buck is too extreme for the state, highlighting his positions on abortion and homosexuality. Republicans tie Bennet at the hip to President Obama -- particularly on the economic stimulus package and the health care law. Two men enter; one man will leave. (And, yes, we just made a "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" reference.)

Illinois: The race between Rep. Mark Kirk (R) and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) reminds us of that great scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" where the black knight is grievously wounded time and again but comes back for more. Both Kirk and Giannoulias are that black knight character -- both men have absorbed political hits that would have destroyed other campaigns and both are still standing and egging on their opponent for more. It's an amazing -- and amazingly brutal -- race. Someone will win -- we're sure of it -- but neither side knows who.

Nevada: The contest between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) seems almost certain to be the most expensive Senate race this cycle. It also could be one of the closest in the country with polling showing it a dead heat. Remember that Reid beat John Ensign by just 428 votes in 1998; the state is no stranger to close elections.

Pennsylvania: Rep. Joe Sestak (D) has a history of political comebacks in his (relatively) short career in elected office and he appears to be making up ground -- slowly but surely -- on former Rep. Pat Toomey (R). Democrats have long argued that their hefty registration advantage in the state kept them in the game in the Keystone State. Still, Sestak will need to overcome the fact that Obama isn't terribly popular outside of Philadelphia.

Washington: The two parties vehemently disagree on this race. Democrats believe Sen. Patty Murray (D) has a steady single digit edge. Republicans argue that former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) is rapidly making up ground and say they are putting their money where their collective mouth is by spending more than $1 million on ads over the past two weeks. Polling provides a mixed bag.

West Virginia: After a bit of a political free-fall in September, Gov. Joe Manchin (D) appears to have stabilized in the special election in the Mountain State. But, most polling still shows Manchin and businessman John Raese (R) running neck and neck -- and the two national party committees continue to spend heavily in the state. If you are looking for a sign of how strong the national winds are blowing in Democrats' face, this race will be telling. Manchin is very personally popular but struggling under the unpopularity of President Obama and the national Democratic party.

By Chris Cillizza  | October 19, 2010; 2:26 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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