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The Friday Line: Senate Races to Watch

The Senate playing field hasn't seen any major shakeups since our last rankings on Oct. 14. 

The big mover is Ohio where things seem to be getting even worse for Republicans.  New Jersey joins the list at #10 as Sen. Jon Corzine (D) appears to be on the cusp of claiming the governor's mansion and vacating his seat. As always, the races are ranked from the most likely to switch parties to the least.  Questions, comments and compliments are welcome.

1. Pennsylvania -- Republican Rick Santorum: Both sides seem to content to spend the rest of the year raising the millions they'll need for the television ad wars next year.  Status quo is bad news for Santorum: Strategic Vision, a Republican polling firm, released a survey in mid-October showing state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) with a 52 percent to 36 percent lead over the GOP incumbent. (Previous ranking: 1)

2. Rhode Island -- Republican Lincoln Chafee: The National Republican Senatorial Committee continues to bang away on Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey (R), hoping to end his chances of ousting Chafee in a primary. It remains to be seen whether their early efforts will bear fruit.  Democrats must avoid descending into nastiness in their own primary -- between former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse and Secretary of State Matt Brown -- if they hope to take the seat. (Previous ranking: 2)

3. Minnesota -- OPEN, Democrat Mark Dayton is retiring: The decision by EMILY's List to endorse the Senate bid of Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar gives her a major financial leg up in the Democratic primary over 2004 6th district candidate Patty Wetterling. And, the endorsements of Klobuchar by the Steelworkers and UNITE HERE give her the foundation for a turnout operation. The X-factor for Democrats is whether wealthy trial lawyer Mike Ciresi decides to run (he lost to Dayton in the multi-candidate 2000 primary). If Ciresi runs, it significantly complicates Democrats' winning equation. (Previous ranking: 3)

4. Ohio -- Republican Mike DeWine: The political environment for Republicans just keeps getting worse and worse.  Tom Noe, the figure at the center of the "Coingate" scandal, was charged earlier this week with illegally funneling money to President George W. Bush's reelection campaign.  Democrats would prefer not to have a primary but believe that either Rep. Sherrod Brown or Iraq War veteran Paul Hackett could defeat DeWine given the atmospherics in the state. (Previous ranking: 7)

5. Missouri -- Republican Jim Talent: The Show Me State Senate race drops a slot although it remains a top pickup opportunity for Democrats.  State Auditor Claire McCaskill's campaign is getting positive reviews so far and Democratic strategists admit that if they can't win Missouri in the current political environment, it will be a Red State for the foreseeable future. (Previous ranking: 4)

6. Maryland -- OPEN, Democrat Paul Sarbanes is retiring:  No race is a bigger point of contention between the two party committees than this one. Republicans believe Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is a superstar candidate with the ability to appeal across party lines -- particularly in the black community. They insist the controversy over two former Senate Democratic staffers illegally accessing Steele's credit report will be a major factor as the race heats up.  Democrats believe the combination of Rep. Ben Cardin as their likely nominee and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's (D) 13-point victory in the state last year make this a non-competitive race. Time will tell. (Previous ranking: 6)

7. Montana -- Republican Conrad Burns: This race remains largely unformed. Democrats continue to see Burns as vulnerable, but he is making little news (a good thing) and raising lots of money ($960,000 from July 1 to Sept. 30).  The Democratic primary between state Auditor John Morrison and state Sen. Jon Tester has yet to engage.  Given Burns's narrow win in 2000, this race remains on the radar, but we're not sold yet. (Previous Ranking: 5)

8. Washington -- Democrat Maria Cantwell: Former Safeco Insurance head Mike McGavick (R) is an impressive first-time candidate who seems capable of giving Cantwell a real race.  Republicans argue that even though the national environment is not favorable for them, the fallout from the state's 2004 gubernatorial race evens up the playing field (think 2000 Florida recount, only worse).  Cantwell doesn't have the same appeal to voters as her colleague Patty Murray enjoys, but she might have just enough to get her over the top in a strong Democratic year. (Previous ranking: 8)

9. Nebraska -- Democrat Ben Nelson: Nelson is hitting all the right notes to win reelection in this reddest of Red States. He was the first Democratic Senator to offer praise for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.  National Republicans are quietly rooting for former Ameritrade President Pete Ricketts to make it through a three-way primary. Even if he does, Republicans need Nelson to make a slip-up somewhere along the way. He hasn't yet. (Previous ranking: 9)

10. (tie) Tennessee -- OPEN, Republican Bill Frist is retiring: While Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) remains an underdog to reclaim this seat for his party, he continues to run strongly when matched against his three potential Republican rivals. A poll done for his campaign and released earlier this week showed the Democrat with small leads over former Reps. Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary as well as former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker. That's impressive considering all three Republicans have run statewide before. Winning an open Senate seat is a difficult challenge for any Democrat (as the 2004 cycle proved). but Ford has the makings of a strong candidate. (Previous ranking: 10)

10. (tie) New Jersey -- Democratic Jon Corzine: With polls showing Corzine pulling away from businessman Doug Forrester (R) in next week's gubernatorial race, this seat jumps onto The Fix's line.  Should he win, Corzine will be charged with appointing a successor to fill the seat until his term ends in 2006.  Acting Gov. Dick Codey is seen as the preferred choice of the national party, but it is unclear if he wants the appointment.  Rep. Bob Menendez seems the most likely pick, although Democrats say that no decisions have been made. Regardless, Republicans have a strong candidate in state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. -- the son of the beloved former governor. (Previous ranking: N/A)

-- Chris Cillizza

Here are The Fix's Friday Lines on the top House and governors races.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 4, 2005; 8:37 AM ET
Categories:  Senate , The Line  
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