The final pieces to the GOP’s Senate majority

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Last week congressional handicapper Charlie Cook declared “The Senate’s In Play!”  Renowned political prognosticator Larry J. Sabato bolstered this claim by asserting that “Republicans have an outside shot at winning full control (+10), but are more likely to end up with +8 (or maybe +9).”

The final stepping-stones on the path to a Republican majority may become clearer on Sept. 14, when GOP primary voters in New Hampshire, Delaware and Wisconsin take to the polls to select their Senate nominees.  If the right mix of candidates emerges victorious in those primaries, the GOP has a solid chance of netting the 10 seats required to become the majority party in the upper chamber of Congress.  If GOP voters choose otherwise, control of the Senate is likely to remain with the Democrats (with or without Harry Reid) when the 112th Congress convenes in January.

New Hampshire Republicans are playing defense in an effort to hold the Senate seat vacated by a retiring Judd Gregg.  If Granite State GOP voters select former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, Republicans are likely to hold this seat in November.  If primary voters sour on Ayotte and choose businessman Bill Binnie instead, the GOP will have a more difficult time holding the seat.

Down the coast in Delaware, Republicans are on offense working to lay claim to the Senate seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden and now occupied by appointee Ted Kaufman.  Former governor and current U.S. Rep. Mike Castle is locked in a bitter primary battle with Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell.  Conservative credentials aside, if O’Donnell defeats Castle, the seat will likely fall back into Democratic hands.  As The Wall Street Journal notes, Castle will likely give conservatives heartburn if his House record is any indicator, but the recent questions swirling around O’Donnell make it likely that her third try at statewide office would be as unsuccessful as her first two.

In Wisconsin, the GOP is trying to do something once thought nearly impossible — capture a Senate seat deep in Democratic territory.  The favorite in the GOP primary is Ron Johnson.  If Johnson emerges victorious, incumbent Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold will have his hands full, and could lose.  If Johnson fails to win the primary, none of the other GOP candidates are projected to give Feingold a serious challenge.

Primary victories by Ayotte, Castle and Johnson could be game changers for the GOP’s Senate chances on Election Day.  Any other combination on Sept. 14 is likely to keep the upper chamber in Democratic hands for at least another two years.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are the co-founders of ProjectVirginia and CivicForumPAC.