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The Delaware Effect

When marketing consultant Christine O'Donnell upset Rep. Mike Castle in Tuesday's Delaware Senate primary, the political world -- and the Fix Friday Line -- shifted a little. Or a lot, depending on your perspective.

Viewed narrowly, O'Donnell's victory took what was a near-certain win for Republicans this fall and turned it into a race where New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D) is a now a favorite.

While O'Donnell's impressive fundraising haul in the immediate aftermath of her win -- more than $1.3 million raised, according to her Web site -- suggests that she will have the money (and then some) to compete with Coons, questions regarding her personal finances and her readiness for the spotlight remain.

The race, which was ranked as the fourth-most likely seat to switch parties in our last Line, drops off the Line this time -- pending some evidence from O'Donnell that she can quickly broaden her appeal beyond conservatives in a state that went for President Obama with 62 percent in 2008.

Friday Line

Seen more broadly, the rapid decline in Republicans' fortunes in the First State does complicate the once-burgeoning hopes of GOP strategists that a Senate majority may be in reach.

Put simply: O'Donnell's win forces a fundamental re-calculation of how Republicans can hope to win the 10 seats they need for the majority.

It's important to note, though, that O'Donnell's victory complicates but does not eliminate the GOP's majority chances.

New polling out of Connecticut and West Virginia (albeit it a Rasmussen poll in the latter state) suggest that both of those Democratic-held seats could be more competitive than at first expected.

That brings the total of competitive Democratic seats to 12 -- giving Republicans, theoretically, some margin for error in their quest for the majority.

Still, the Delaware race takes a near-certain gain off the table -- probably forever. And that's a tough pill to swallow for Republicans.

As always, the number-one-ranked race is the most likely to switch parties in November. Kudos? Critiques? The comments section awaits.

15. New Hampshire (Republican controlled): Republicans were on pins and needles this week as the Granite State primary between former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and attorney Ovide Lamontagne turned out to be closer than anyone thought. (Ayotte won by just more than 1,600 votes.) Democrats pointed to the narrowness of Ayotte's victory as a sign of her weakness in the general election but she is clearly the strongest GOP nominee. Polling suggests that the race between Ayotte and Rep. Paul Hodes (D) is a single-digit affair, but Republicans are very confident that they will win. (Previous ranking: N/A)

14. Ohio (R): What once was touted as a terrific pickup opportunity for Democrats continues to fade as former Rep. Rob Portman (R) begins to distance himself from Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) in public polling. While Portman's resume isn't ideal for the state -- he was the U.S. Trade Representative in the Bush administration -- Fisher's inability to raise money makes it difficult to see how he stages a comeback. (Previous ranking: 9)

13. Florida (R): The Fix moved this race yesterday from "Toss Up" to "Lean Republican," a reflection of the momentum currently on former state House Speaker Marco Rubio's (R) side. The war on the airwaves has only just begun, and Rubio is certain to take heat from both Gov. Charlie Crist (I) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D). But with significant money in the bank -- and an additional $2.5 million pledged by the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- right now the race to succeed Sen. George LeMieux (R) is Rubio's to lose. (Previous ranking: 7)

12. Washington (Democratic-controlled): Several recent polls have shown Sen. Patty Murray (D) at over 50 percent, which is a welcome sign for Democrats who had watched as former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) steadily gained ground since entering the race earlier this year. That said, Murray's not out of the woods yet. Rossi has (finally) gone negative with ads painting Murray's 18 years as evidence that she is "part of the problem." Will they work? (Previous ranking: 13)

11. California (D): Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) came out with her first TV ad this week, a positive spot that left us wondering when the embattled incumbent would begin going negative against former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R). Turns out we didn't have too long to wait: Two days later, Boxer released her second TV spot, which hits Fiorina hard for her tenure at Hewlett Packard. Boxer's likely to keep up her negative fire from now until Nov. 2 to hold Fiorina at bay. Polling suggests that the race is a toss-up. (Previous ranking: 15)

10. Kentucky (R): The National Republican Senatorial Committee's first independent expenditure of the cycle was in this race where the committee launched ads against Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway last week. With ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) pretty well defined at this point -- and not necessarily in a good way -- Republicans want to make sure Conway doesn't skate by and escape notice. This is a quality pickup opportunity for Democrats despite the conservative tilt of the state. The NRSC's ad buy is evidence of that. (Previous ranking: 14)

9. Wisconsin (D): Recent polling has shown that Sen. Russ Feingold (D), who has survived tough races in the past, is in real danger of losing to wealthy businessman Ron Johnson (R). That Feingold skipped Obama's last visit to the state (and has stated that he won't be around for the next one) is a sign that the incumbent is genuinely worried about being tied too closely to his party in Washington. (Previous ranking: 12)

8. Missouri (R): Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) is doing everything she can to distance herself from D.C. -- up to and including using cardboard cutouts of President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) in her ads. And, she got some help in labeling Rep. Roy Blunt (R) as a consummate insider from a Democratic-aligned outside group that went up with TV ads on Thursday. Still, the environment for Democrats in Missouri is very tough and the average of polls in the race still gives Blunt the edge. (Previous ranking: 10)

7. Colorado (D): This race may be the litmus test for how strongly the national winds are blowing against Democrats. Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) is still not a well known commodity to voters in the state but neither is Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck (R). To date, Bennet has run the superior campaign and Buck's first ad is something short of stellar. Polling shows the race as a dead heat as voters in Colorado have clearly soured on Democrats at the national level. (Previous ranking: 11)

6. Nevada (D): A slew of polls released in this race over the past week all show -- roughly -- the same thing: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and former state assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) are in a dead heat. That's a remarkable thing for both candidates. Reid was left for politically dead long ago amid poll numbers that showed that Nevada voters knew him and didn't like him; Angle's haphazard -- at best -- campaign has given the appearance that she is not ready for primetime. And yet, here we are. This race is going to go down to the wire with tens of millions being spent on both sides. The outcome? A jump ball. (Previous ranking: 8)

5. Illinois (D): State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) is up with an ad featuring President Obama's endorsement, which should sell well in the president's home state. Rep. Mark Kirk (R), meanwhile, has been emphasizing his moderate credentials in his new commercials. The current ads are only a lull before a storm of negative commercials over the final six weeks. (Previous ranking: 6)

4. Pennsylvania (D): Democrats insist that this race is not over yet despite the fact that former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) -- thanks to heavy spending on ads by his campaign and conservative-aligned outside groups -- now has a steady lead in polls. Rep. Joe Sestak (D) is known for running unorthodox campaigns and he's living up to that reputation in this race. And yet, Sestak has also shown a knack for winning races that he's not expected to win. Sestak needs to move soon though or run the risk of being written off. (Previous ranking: 5)

3. Indiana (D): Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) is probably the only Democrat who could have made this a competitive race against former Sen. Dan Coats (R). But that doesn't mean he will win -- particularly in this sort of electoral environment. While Coats has liabilities (namely, being a former senator and lobbyist), Ellsworth would almost certainly need a heavy investment -- ads -- from the national party to make a run at the Republican. Ellsworth is down double digits in his own poll. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Arkansas (D): It's never a good sign when the incumbent is the one who's challenging her rival to hold more debates but that's exactly what Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) is doing. The embattled senator has already gone negative on the airwaves against Rep. John Boozman, but amid a national environment that favors Republicans, it looks like this seat is gone. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. North Dakota (D): Democrats would have to move Hoeven and hell to win this race. (Previous ranking: 1)

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | September 17, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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