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Can Republicans capture the Senate majority?

Senate Republicans are poised to make major gains on Nov. 2 although their chances of retaking control of the chamber appear to fall into the "longshot" category at the moment.

Republicans have three sure-thing pickups in North Dakota, Indiana and Arkansas and have to feel good about their chances in Wisconsin as well. That means that the floor for Senate Republicans 11 days out looks to be +4.

Determining the ceiling for Senate Republicans is more difficult. If they win every Democratic-held seat on the Line and lose none of their own seats, they would net 11 seats -- one more than they need to claim the majority.

Friday Line

But, that means running the table not just in Nevada, Illinois, Colorado and Pennsylvania but also knocking off incumbents in strongly Democratic territory like Washington and California.

Possible? Yes. Probable. No.

The simple truth is that the Delaware debacle -- in which Republicans saw a near sure thing pickup turn into a near sure thing loss when Christine O'Donnell won the Republican nomination in mid-September -- coupled with the increasing margin for state Attorney General Dick Blumenthal (D) in Connecticut give the GOP absolutely no margin for error and make the majority look tougher to win.

Below is our Line of the 15 Senate races most likely to switch parties in 11 days. The number one ranked race is the likeliest switcher. Kudos? Critiques? The comments section awaits.

To the Line!

Coming off the Line: Connecticut
Coming onto the Line: Alaska

15. New Hampshire (Republican-controlled): Former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) went up with a new TV ad this week that features her jogging along a forest path. That's about the only major development in the race since our last Senate Line three weeks ago. The latest public poll shows Ayotte continuing to cruise above Rep. Paul Hodes (D) 50 percent to 35 percent. (Previous ranking: 15)

14. Alaska (R): Who would have thought the most competitive three-way race would be in Alaska not Florida? (Um, not us.) Polling continues to show Democrat Scott McAdams in third place behind GOP nominee Joe Miller and the write-in campaign of GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, but anything can happen in a three-way race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee knows that -- and that's why they are spending money in the Last Frontier. (Previous ranking: N/A)

13. Missouri (R): The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has pulled its advertising out of the state, which is a bad sign for Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) in her campaign against Rep. Roy Blunt (R). (Previous ranking: 9)

12. California (D): It's still hard for us to believe that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) can lose in such a Democratic state but if ever there was a year where it could happen, this is the one. Senate Republicans released a poll -- conducted by Dave Sackett, one of the top numbers guys in the party -- showing the race tied at 44 percent and, while Democrats insist they have Boxer ahead, everyone acknowledges that Fiorina has closed the gap. (Previous ranking: 13)

11. Washington (D): There's no race -- with the possible exception of Louisiana -- where the two parties disagree more about the state of play than this one. Republicans believe former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) has made up considerable ground against Sen. Patty Murray (D) and is now in position to pull off the upset. Democrats say that while the race is close, Murray leads steadily. Polling gives Murray a very narrow edge. (Previous ranking: 12)

10. West Virginia (D): Beyond the recent spats over "hicky" ads, pink marble driveways and Second-Amendment remedies to cap-and-trade legislation, this race remains close for one main reason: Gov. Joe Manchin (D), while popular among voters, is running in a state where President Obama and national Democrats remain deeply unpopular. (Previous ranking: 11)

9. Kentucky (R): The race for the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R) remains Democrats' best pick-up opportunity, despite (or, some might argue, because of) the firestorm surrounding state Attorney General Jack Conway's (D) ad questioning ophthalmologist Rand Paul's (R) religious beliefs and raising the now-infamous "Aqua Buddha" controversy. Whether Conway wins or loses, his ad will bear the brunt of the blame (or credit). (Previous ranking: 10)

8. Illinois (D): This race is like the 12th round of a prizefight -- both Rep. Mark Kirk (R) and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) are badly bloodied but still trying to land one last haymaker. Kirk's financial advantage should serve him well down the stretch, but remember that this is a blue state so he has almost no room for (more) error. (Previous ranking: 5)

7. Nevada (D): Ask anyone on either side of the race between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) where thing stand and you will get the same answer: it's tied. Reid's forces are hoping their ground game can deliver him a narrow victory; Angle is relying on grassroots Republican energy to push her over the line. Either way, it's going to be very close. (Previous ranking: 8)

6. Pennsylvania (D): Rep. Joe Sestak (D) rode a last-minute surge of support to victory in his May primary against Sen. Arlen Specter (D), and recent polling suggests he may be poised to do it again in his general-election fight against former Rep. Pat Toomey (R). The Fix moved the race back to "Toss Up" this week, making it one of few races this cycle where the late momentum appears to be on the Democrats' side (Previous ranking: 4)

5. Colorado (D): No state has seen as much outside group spending as Colorado. The reason? Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck (R) are in a nip and tuck contest in a state that will almost certainly be on the frontlines of the 2012 presidential race as well. Bennet's team is doing everything it can to label Buck as an extremist -- hoping to drive suburban voters (particularly women) to the Democrat. Buck just keeps hammering away at Bennet's support for Obama's agenda, which is not popular in the state. (Previous ranking: 7)

4. Wisconsin (D): Democrats aren't ready to count out Sen. Russ Feingold (D), but businessman Ron Johnson (R) remains the favorite here. This race has quickly worked its way to the front of the Line thanks to a stellar campaign by Johnson and a less-than-stellar one from Feingold. (Previous ranking: 6)

3. Indiana (D): The seat of retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D) is over -- the most recent independent poll in the race has former Sen. Dan Coats (R) leading Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) 51 percent to 33 percent among likely voters. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Arkansas (D): A CNN/Time poll this week showed Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) within 14 points of Rep. John Boozman (R) -- the closest she has been since she won a tough runoff over Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D). But she's an incumbent down by double digits. 'Nuff said. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. North Dakota (D): Is this Hoeven? No, it's North Dakota. (Previous ranking: 1)

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | October 22, 2010; 12:49 PM ET
Categories:  The Line  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Where President Obama is headed (and what it means)
Next: "Fast Fix": Democrats' "extreme" tactics (and will they work)

 
 
 
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