TheDC Election Outlook: Democrats fighting furiously to maintain hold on the Senate

Jon Ward Contributor
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Republicans need to take 10 seats currently held by Democrats in order to win back control of the Senate. Three weeks out from the midterm elections, this season’s pivotal Senate races can be divided into four categories.

Three Democratic senate seats are all but certain to go Republican in November: Arkansas, Indiana and North Dakota.

There are six Senate seats that Democrats are trying desperately to hold on to. As of this week, all of them are trending Republican: Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

There are four Republican seats that have been competitive, but look likely to stay on the GOP side: Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and Ohio.

Finally, there’s the Democratic firewall, the final four seats that the Party must keep if it wants to retain control of the Senate: California, Connecticut, Delaware and Washington.

Here is a look at each of the four races that comprise the Democratic firewall.

California: Republican Carly Fiorina has been unable to get within striking distance of Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer, but national Republicans still hope she can close on the incumbent. Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, was trailing Boxer by only a point or two in late August and early September. But since then, Boxer has padded her lead, though it is still a surmountable five points in the Real Clear Politics poll average.

Fiorina has tried to stay focused on the economy, even as she has maintained strong conservative stands on social issues, which came as something of a surprise to observers who expected her to tack left as the election approached. Boxer’s attack ads hammering Fiorina on her tenure at HP have had an effect, however.

Fiorina will try to close the gap with a closing argument that Boxer is “an ineffective and hyper-partisan senator,” said Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund. The Republican campaign will tie Boxer to the state’s 12 percent unemployment rate as often as possible. “Over the next three weeks voters will be reminded of not only Boxer’s dismal record but also that changing Washington starts with a vote to change the people we send there,” Soderlund said.

Boxer spokesman Dan Newman said the Democrat will show voters “what a clear choice the election presents on the issue of jobs. It’s a choice between Barbara Boxer who is fighting to create jobs and fix the economy, and Carly Fiorina who rewarded herself a not-so-small fortune for laying off tens of thousands of Californians and sending jobs overseas.”

Connecticut: If nothing else, this race is causing Democrats to worry and spend money. Republican Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, has spent $30 million of her own fortune and her total investment could go as high as $50 million by Election Day. Democrat Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is low on cash, requiring visits from President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

Despite her TV carpet bombing, it’s unclear whether McMahon can break past the negative associations with some of the more lewd and crude YouTube clips from her WWE days. Surprisingly, McMahon said Sunday that WWE programming is better now than it used to be when she was in charge. “The programming content, as I’ve said, has changed from TV-14 to TV-PG. I much prefer it today,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Blumenthal’s lead is still comfortable, at about nine points. Nevertheless, McMahon’s financial fusillade is stretching Democrats financially and forcing them to spend money in a state they would prefer not to. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has bought $2 million in ad time to try to hold on to the seat being vacated by Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat.

NEXT: The state of the Senate races in Delaware and Washington
Delaware: If Democrats retain control of the Senate by limiting their losses to nine seats, this race will be cited as the biggest lost opportunity for Republicans. Christine O’Donnell has failed to close the gap that has separated her from Democrat Chris Coons since her stunning in the August primary.

O’Donnell rode Tea Party support to her primary win, but has done little in the last five weeks to reduce Coons’ lead from about 15 points. She showed signs of desperation in the last week, running an ad that began with the line, “I’m not a witch,” and breaking her self-imposed exile from interviews with media other than Fox News by talking to CNN.

Washington: This looks like the race Republicans have the best chance of winning. Republican Dino Rossi, a businessman who has run for governor twice in the last six years, has pulled even with Democrat incumbent Sen. Patty Murray and has lead in a few recent polls.

Murray went on the air in early September and pulled ahead by a few points, but in late September both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and independent group Crossroads GPS pumped a combined $4 million into Washington on Rossi’s behalf. The ads, three-quarters of them being paid for by the NRSC, will run through Nov. 2.

Rossi’s key message is that Murray has been a part of Washington’s spend-too-much culture, and that he would be a fiscal hawk. A recent NRSC ad said Murray’s record is “18 years of reckless spending,” and hitting her votes in favor of the Wall Street bailout bill, the $814 billion stimulus, and Obama’s health care bill. Murray’s counterattack has been to paint Rossi as a Wall Street toadie because of his past minority ownership stake in a bank that came under scrutiny from federal regulators.

This is the first installment of an ongoing series about Senate races in the midterm elections that will appear every Monday leading up to Election Day.

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